Jim Konen, Jim Russell, Peter Tomshany, Rotcod Zzaj - "Sonic Nuggets" (Zzaj Productions
Detroit Improv Duo - "Intuitive Tesseract" (Future Records 2001, FR 2525)
From Aural Innovations #18 (January 2002)
During his two year stint in Michigan (recently returned to Washington state), Rotcod Zzaj (aka Dick Metcalf) had the good fortune to hook up with guitarist Jim Konen, also known as "VisionEar". The two CDS reviewed below represent the results of their first and second collaborations.
Their first outing together produced three of the five tracks on the Sonic Nuggets CD, the other two being trio performances with Zzaj, guitarist Peter Tomshany, and drummer Jim Russell recorded in 1999 prior to Zzaj's move to Michigan.
The lengthy "Initial Survey" opens with cool jazz keys and tasteful guitar. It's got a nice groove and countless good ideas crop up, but it's a bit uneven until about five minutes into the tune the two musicians seem to "find each other", and the music all of a sudden gels nicely and we're off on a cool cosmic jazz excursion. From this point on the ideas flow smoothly and Zzaj kicks out some seriously spaced out sounds that make me (not for the first time) wish to see a collaboration between him and Doug "Dr Synth" Walker of Alien Planetscapes. Thematically the music changes continually and (mostly) seamlessly, which makes this nearly 21 minute extended journey a pleasure to groove along with. Edit this track down to about 14 minutes and you've got a true powerhouse tune.
For the first half of "Stalactite Miners" Zzaj and Konen seem to occupy separate worlds that coexist nicely alongside one another. Zzaj laying down his trademark jazzy groove keys and Konen kicking out quiet but busy runs on the fretboard. But after about six minutes the pace picks up and my legs start to move as Zzaj plays around with various dance rhythms including a segment that is strangely disco-ish and Konen does a little bit of the George Benson thing and I felt transported to the Holiday Inn cocktail lounge where my fellow drunkards have funny looks on their faces because they think they know this song and it sure feels good but oh my gosh have the musicians somehow mangled it? Whewwww.... fun fun fun. Lots going on here. Headphones required. The final Zzaj/Konen track is "Under The Lodi", a relatively short, spaced out assault with heavy driving keyboard patterns and a non-stop parade of cool freaky sounds.
"Panning For Percussives" and "Hidden Treasures" are the two track featuring the trio of Zzaj, Tomshany, and Russell. "Panning For Percussives" features a wild duel that pits keyboard against percussion, taking the listener on a roller coaster ride of non-stop maddened tripped out Zzaj keyboards and drumming. There's no beginning, middle, or end... it's just an assault that will leave your senses black and blue. A good fun and mightily impressive track that displays good musicianship and a wild variety of sounds to make this more fun and interesting than just a display of chops. And "Hidden Treasures" is a killer jam that includes some of the most overtly rock oriented and sonically brain blistering music I've heard from the Zzaj camp yet. Oh, it's still based in that strange jazz world his projects typically occupy. But there's a some wild spacey synths and the guitars go from drifting to screaming to garage rocking to full blown freakout. Perhaps imagine Sun Ra teamed up with electric Miles, throw in the some Sonic Youth guitar, and you'll have something like this. Very trippy.
Zzaj's second collaboration with guitarist Jim Konen was recorded in Konen's studio and produced the Detroit Improv Duo CD. In his note to me accompanying the CD Zzaj describes the music as being more accessible that much of his work. But if that's the case I'd say Zzaj and Konen have succeeded in taking standard, or accessible (whatever you want to call it), jazz sounds and styles and added a great deal of variety and cosmic strangeness to the music, giving the listener something accessible, yet decidedly different.
Among the highlights is the opening track, "Sine", on which Zzaj lays down a cosmic jazz keyboard groove while Konen plays some quiet but gorgeously freaky guitar sounds. Electronic percussion provides the rhythmic base over which the two musicians jam. Strange voicings that bring to mind a tripped out mixture of chanting and scat start to "sing", giving the music a psychedelic jazz feel that never loses it's groove.
My no-contest favorite track on the disc is "The Fastrack". Mucho cosmic synths accompany a wildly frenetic keyboard jam to give us a total SPACE jazz experience. This may well be the ultimate marriage of space and jazz. A trumpet sound soon jumps in the ring and goes a few breathtaking rounds with the relentless keyboards. Definitely some of the best playing I've heard from the Zzaj man yet. Also on the spacey side is "Inner Strength", an ambient/symphonic piece that sounds like the soundtrack to a very intense film. I really dig the string section sounds and the gurgling glom of orchestral keys and rumbling guitar.
"Skippies" is another standout with a keyboard produced horn section that jams with the guitar, which on this track takes on a more rocking fusion sound. Zzaj jams along steadily throughout while Konen teases the listener with short rocking bits until finally taking front and center stage and letting his guitar shred with abandon. Absolutely killer playing! And for guitar variety you can't do better than "The Beat", an aptly titled cool jazz tune with jazzy wah'd guitar licks, whining Frippoid notes, standard jazz soloing, and a simple but head-bopping steady drum beat. Lots of variety packed into 8 minutes. Now that Zzaj has returned to Washington I'll have to check out for myself what other projects guitarist Konen has been involved in.
For more information you can visit the Zzaj productions web site at: http://www.reachone.com/rotcod/.
Contact via snail mail c/o Zzaj Productions; 5806 Armour Drive; Lacey, WA 98513.
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz