Sunday, March 4, 2007

Eric Zinman Ensemble.

Eric visited my holdfast not long ago and left me with two striking discs that typify the small subset of real jazz here in music school land. Charlie Kohlhase also left me five examples of what he's been up to for the past seven years so there will be a number of descriptions of this body of work as I have time to give it the hearing it deserves.

The Eric Zinman Ensemble release is out on Cadence, CJR:1187 and available at

It features two of Boston's great and locally neglected masters, Bassist John Voigt and Drummer Laurence Cook. Both get lost in a milieu shuffle of careerism that rewards shameless self aggrandizement over music merit.

But both go way back in the annals of exemplary participation. John has done journeyman work since the days of Boston's old Playboy Club and worked with everyone from Jan Hammer to Thurston Moore.

He is a keen musical thinker and put out a self produced lp in 1976 of an overdubbed bass quintet blended with ambient sounds of a bingo tournament at a time when his contemporaries were avidly hopping on the bombastic and forgettable fusion bandwagon. He also did a puckish offshoot of the music minus one practice records for improvisers and a fine solo bass cd with hand painted covers.

Laurence was an early graduate from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and made a recording in the 60's with the relentless noise band, the Godz on ESP in addition to work with Bobby Naughton, Bill Dixon, Lowell Davidson and Joe Morris.

He is joined by John on a Thurston Moore release, "Fuzz against Junk".

Eric studied with Bill Dixon at Bennington College, spent some time at NEC and has worked with Raphe Malik, Sabir Mateen, Blaise Siwula,Glenn Spearman,Tatsuya Nakatani, Luther Grey, Glynis Lomon, Mike Lopez, Greg Kelley, Christoph Irmer, Libba Villavechia and Mario Rechtern and continues to keep an eye to fruitful collaborations with musicians, visual artists and dancers.

The recording opens with a Zinman composition, "Mystery" that offers groups of melody phrases rising and receding amid an environ of drum and cymbal brush strokes and interwoven bass pluck at a serene tempo that throws the considered piano phrases into vivid relief to contemplate and absorb.

The confident rendition of Ornette Coleman's piece, "Eventually" follows with a flight like briskness to the initial exposition followed by solo highlighting from Laurence with his signature array of sonic allegory phasing flawlessly into John's pointed cluster plucks all over the fret ran range to meet a Zinman enthusiasm for the fun of the melody potential fulfilled.

A slightly subdued restatement closes as if to thank Mr. Coleman for his years of contribution to musical imagination everywhere.

The beautiful Lowell Davidson melody of "Small Begger" is expressed as a ballad vector with Eric's bright cluster punctuations and sinuous bow motion from Mr. Voigt enveloped in Mr. Cook's percussive atmosphere of evocation to recall a lost friend to them all.

"Respective Duets" and "Short Story for Bill Dixon" are two more Zinman compositions.

The former is one of his more intricate works and demonstrates his ongoing interest in composition/improvisation union. Cook and Voigt begin with Laurence's array of 'little instrument" sound colors matched by vigorous register ranging bow work from John with Eric's ringing block chords, melody clusters and glisses close at hand. It is a sequence of deft textures from duet sub units of the trio with a full ensemble finish.

"Short Story..." is a ballad shaped miniature thanking Eric's majestic mentor and teacher, Bill Dixon, still full of vigor in his eighth decade of stunning trumpet science with a huge heart.

"Swing, Swang, Swung" from Mr. Voigt has interesting echoes of Gil Evan's "La Nevada" without the mass of horns and filtered through a more austere economy of means and a newer way of framing sound. John begins with the essence of a walking bass line with crisp Zinman voicings close at hand while the indomitable Cook briskly taps the tempo with hi hat and snare.

"Straight Up, Straight Out" is a work of the departed and utterly under recognized Glenn Spearman. It is a running ball with Zinman pianistics as the launch pad for a tight group sprint.

"Channeling Paris, 1870" is offered by Laurence Cook and is a great facet of his allegorical approach. When Cook is your drummer, you never waste time rehearsing with technical drummerspeak. You come up with some metaphor to fire his imagination like "Laurence, channel Paris" and the reverie of ensuing associations is the resulting shape of the piece.

He carries over his background with pigment, other brushes and canvas to make sound paintings in the moment, in real time. I'm not sure if music schools will ever figure out how to impart that method. It is also balladish and deft.

"Little Jimmy K.,(the White Hipster)" is an example of John Voigt's literary side and a piece of spoken word micro music theater.

He improvises stories as well as sounds and they tend toward wry commentary on human foolishness in a voice redolent of Bob Dorough on the old Miles piece "Blue Christmas" wedded to Hanna-Barbara cartoon characters like 'Baba Louie', the burro sidekick of 'QuickDraw McGraw'.

John has a growing number of these and they would easily make a stunning album in their own right, another facet of real jazz that may not work well with music school orthodoxy.

"Elephant Paws" is the final contribution of Eric's wide ranging array of composition invention. It opens with a rumbling ringing sing of the keyboard soon joined by John's plucky jog to a Cook march time metaphor followed by expansive alternations between cluster densities and rippled long tones enhanced by a Cook texture marked by wood block and cymbal wash leading to a duet world of bass and drums and a Zinman flourish as a close.

"War and Peace" ends the disc as a group improvisation of striking density as Laurence Cook channels these extremes for Eric and John to enhance. It is an up tempo weave of laced piano melody duels with upper atmosphere bow flow from Mr. Voigt.

All in all this the epitome of what music can be in the Boston area when not preoccupied with career fears and the dead weight of orthodoxy and I'm thrilled it somehow saw the light of day. Would there were more of it.