Trillium - "Warrant Officers Don't Do This Shit (People Do)"
(Zzaj Productions 2002, ZP-83)
From Aural Innovations #23 (April 2003)
Here's a little treat for Rotcod Zzaj fans which gives us a glimpse into some of his earlier work. Originally recorded on January 28, 1979 at the Gnu Deli in Olympia, Washington, Trillium was a trio of Dick Metcalf (aka Rotcod Zzaj) on words, percussion, voice and flute, John Alkins on grand piano, Fender Rhodes, electric piano, percussion and voice, and Harlan Mark Vale (aka Kramtones) on drums, percussion, chen and voice.
Having since developed such a recognizable keyboard sound, it's interesting that Zzaj does not play keyboards in this trio. "Minus Son At A Minus Minor" opens the CD with a meandering keyboard melody that doesn't really get interesting until it's very last moments when Zzaj joins in on spoken word. But things take off with "Awakening Of The Displaced Anglo Saxon". The 24 minute piece begins as a jazzy tribal percussion fest accompanied by various forms of chanting. A cool mixture of Sun Ra and traditional African sounds. The trio jams along creating a percussion orchestra that can have grooves, but also focuses heavily on ambience and sound textures. The music gets very sparse and quiet at times... there were moments when I had to crank the volume way up to hear all the subtle bits that were going on. After drifting along and digging the percussion vibes for a while, the trio shifts gears and Zzaj introduces his poetic spoken word against Alkins' atmospheric keyboards, but also including a concert hall styled classically influenced grand piano portion, which pairs very nicely with the Zzaj spoken word.
On "The Approach Of Eve" we hear more tribal, ambient, and free-improv percussion, similar to the first part of "Awakening...". I really dig the beautiful lingering pulsating tones from the gong or cymbals. But it was the final 24 minute track, "The Ghost Of Midnight", which really lit my fire. The track begins much as "Awakening..." ended. A light piano melody and percussion create the backdrop for passionate spoken word from Zzaj telling the tale of the Ghost. Alkins' piano style is peaceful and accessible, but does eventually segue into a free-jazz intensity which fuels Zzaj's vocal delivery to high charged action. Now we're kickin!! After a bit of frenzied jamming the pace eases again and we're back in the quieter ambient realms with keyboards and percussion making subtle statements, before swiveling again into an excellent jazz groove that includes some of my favorite moments on the CD. Love that Rhodes!!
In summary, there's lots of variety and the trio switch gears often so it's no surprise that the two lengthy tracks are the most interesting ones. There are definitely some slow moments, but it's great hearing these guys take the time to stretch out and explore and there's lots of good ideas to be heard.
For more information you can visit the Zzaj Productions web site at: http://home.attbi.com/~rotcod.
Peruse the Zzaj Productions catalog at: http://www.homemademusic.com/~zzaj.
Contact via snail mail c/o Zzaj Productions; 5308 65th Avenue; Lacey, WA 98513.
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz