ZU/MATS GUSTAFFSON

How to Raise an Ox
Atavistic ALP 168 CD

Fancifully the product of some rough trade miscegenation between The Clash at their punkiest and 1940s R&B-jazz baritone saxophonist Leo “Mad Lad” Parker, the Italian post-rock trio Zu makes common cause with macho Swedish jazzer Mats Gustafsson on this CD. In sheer electric-fuelled power alone, the four could probably blow away the massed Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson and Buddy Rich bands – none of which were particularly known for their subtlety.

An antidote to the effete minimalism and microtonalism that affects many European Free Jazzers, HOW TO RAISE AN OX is raunchy improv of the highest order featuring uncomplicated song titles that would gladden the heart of any Death Metal fan and enough pulverizing riffs to make the CD a close cousin to grind core excesses.

When he’s not involved in more subtle efforts with Gush or the Aaly Trio, Gustafsson adopts guitar-hero posturing when playing baritone saxophone with The Thing. That Scandinavian trio also covers White Stripes’ tunes. This manly roughness finds an echo in the iron-fisted sounds of Rome-based Zu. Formed in 1999 by bassist Massimo Pupillo, drummer Jacopo Battaglia and saxophonist Luca Mai – refugees from an Italian underground band called Gronge (sic) – it’s the result of two years of wood-shedding as the three worked to reconcile their equal admiration for the sounds produced by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Charles Mingus, Motorhead and Kraftwerk. Since then, the band has not only recorded with American avant-guitarist Eugene Chadbourne and saxman Ken Vandermark, but Pupillo has also worked in a trio with Italian saxophonist Gianni Gebbia and drummer Lukas Ligeti.

Subtlety isn’t the quartet’s long suit here with Battaglia’s hard-as-nails drum beats more Heavy Metal than Punk, and the twin baris of Mai and Gustafsson screaming altissimo split tones when they’re not rooting like crazed musk oxen through the tunes. In total, the sounds are more reminiscent of Blue Cheer’s thud than the subtlety [!] of Led Zeppelin. Taken on the Herculean role of both lead and bass guitarist, Pupillo ratchets distorted washboard-like scrubbing on his strings at certain points and continual almost monotonous bass riffs elsewhere. On “The King Devours his Sons” for instance, his jangling metal ratcheting makes guitarists like James “Blood” Ulmer and Marc Ribot appear in retrospect as close cousins to nylon-string master Charlie Byrd.

Still, there are points such as on “Beasts Only Die To Be Born” – which seem to be the set’s token ballad – where Battaglia’s unsynchronized patterning reveals that he has more tricks than percussion pulverization on show. Additionally the call-and-response snorts and seemingly random split tones that force themselves from Gustaffson’s and Mai’s horn bells at many opportunities insinuate POMO craftiness rather then naïve primitivism to the tunes.

Overall though, while the nine tough anthems delivered here will never be confused with Smooth Jazz or even Energy Music, a little more restraint in presentation may have convinced otters that improv can be ballsier without every riff being hammered into the ground

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Over A Furnace 2. How to Raise an Ox 3. Eating the Landscape 4. The King Devours his Sons 5. Bring the War Back Home 6. Meat Eaters, Solar Bird 7. Palace of Reptiles 8. Beasts Only Die To Be Born 9. The Tigers Teaches the Lamb

Personnel: Luca Mai and Mats Gustafsson (baritone saxophones); Massimo Pupillo (bass guitar); Jacopo Battaglia (drums)