December 17, 2001
ZU+ EUGENE CHADBOURNE
Newtone Records fy 7021 cd
Looking for a CD that combines music by Charles Mingus, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Iron Maiden, Sky Saxon and James Brown among others and also comes with a parental advisory warning about the explicit recipe for preparing gnocchi printed on the label?
Well, look no farther. Here it is, almost 52 minutes of musical mayhem, a match up between American improv madman/guitarist/vocalist (sic) Doctor Eugene Chadborne with the four members of Zu, the Italian punk-metal-improv-jazz group, playing a program of their favor cover versions.
Over the top like most — all? — of Chabournes work, it seem that hes finally found the proper framework for his muse in the land of opera buffa, frantic quiz shows and revolving door governments. The results are often hilarious, but somewhat reflective at the same time.
Right now, some younger improvisers, turned off by mainstream jazzs dependence on Tin Pan Alley standards have attempted to claim pop and rock songs as a new repertoire. But, in truth, listening to most young lions performing quiet balladic versions of Nirvana hits sound little different than what came from studio jazz cats forced to do version of Beatle ballads in the 1960s and 1970s.
Chadbourne sees things differently. By not treating the rock standards here with any more reverence than he brings to such jazz tunes like Mingus Boogie Stop Shuffle and Jobims Corcovado, he manages to keep some of the irreverence of the originals intact. After all, doesnt this surf-metal run through of the Mingus classic, make it as tough and menacing as what the five tone scientists do with their take on Saxon and the Seeds garage-rock anthem Pushin Too Hard?
With the guitarist adding some feedback and wah wah petal tricks to his folksy campfire guitar picking, he has electric bassist Massimo Pupillo and drummer Jacopo Battaglia to give these tunes enough bottom to sneak them through the consciousness of any metal fan. But the real subversiveness comes from the front line. Theres saxman Luca Mai, whose playing seems to hint at James Chances fake-jazz, John Zorns cut ups and Fausto Papettis syrupy Mediterranean love ballads in equal measures, and trumpeter Roy Paci, who seems as if hes auditioning for TSOP, the Tijuana Brass and the Italian Instabile Orchestra on different tracks.
You realize as well that the horn men are often putting on their out-of-tune passages throughout. At least Paci shows hes able to nail the Pink Panther theme, but then again, it does come in the middle of a version of James Browns Sex Machine.
Some folks, of course, may be turned off by Chadbournes cracked throat attempts at singing, which are made disturbingly obvious when he isnt screaming Black Sabbath anthems, but trying to croon as on the tender Corcovado. The result may appear as off putting as a Big Mac dunked into some pasta al brodo, but in truth his voice isnt that much worse than Chet Bakers. And anyways, for all the years trumpeter Baker lived on-and-off in Italy — including LP encounters In Bologna, In Milan and with 50 Italian strings — did he ever think to release a version of Sex Machine naming Roma, Torina and other local cities where you could take it to the bridge?
Should you admit to the guilty pleasure of listening to your old heavy metal eight tracks as well as other music, than this session is for you. Its also for anyone with a sense of humor. While it isnt historically important, exposure to it could probably bring more rockers to improv than any number of TV appearances by Wynton Marsalis.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Iron Man 2. The Robots 3. Chain of Fools 4. Boogie Stop Shuffle 5. Corcovado 6. Pushin Too Hard 7. Sex Machine 8. Sacrifice
Personnel: Roy Paci (trumpet); Luca Mai (tenor or alto saxophone); Eugene Chadbourne (guitar, electric rake); Massimo Pupillo (electric bass); Jacopo Battaglia (drums)