When it comes to live music I’ve never been much interested in seeing artists who look slick and sound just like they do on their studio recordings.
Performances to me should be an audio-visual experience that takes the listener/viewer into a more spontaneous zone; in other words, to be a one-off event.
But the case of Zu, a band from Rome, is an odd one. They have a new album called Jhator out on the splendidly named House of Mythology label and their tour dates are ostensibly to promote this fact. Or at least they would be in the normal order of things. The sticking point though is that the new album sounds nothing like they did on stage at the Bronson club near Ravenna last night.
For this show Zu were a trio of Massimo Pupillo (bass guitar), Luca Mai (baritone sax) and Tomas Jämyr (drums). They made a glorious racket of skronking instrumental noise-rock that pummelled the ear drums big time.
Nothing wrong with that at all, very enjoyable in fact. This uncompromising sound is indeed exactly what you get when your hear their excellent recent releases Carboniferous (2009) and Cortar Todo (2015). But where does this leave Jhator, an album which is best described as mystical ambience comprising two 20 minute tracks entitled ‘Jhator:A Sky Burial’ and ‘The Dawning Moon Of The Mind’.
The title of the second extended piece is a bit of a giveaway in that it references a meditative mental state summed in the press release comment from the band to the effect that “In making this album we have tried to affirm life, beauty and mystery. We refocus the vision in another direction far from the Western point of view”.
None of this enlightened philosophy was much in evidence at Ravenna, save for long droning encore for which they called upon the services of another guitarist. Luca Mai’s sax is a key feature of the live Zu but, curiously, is entirely absent from Jhator. Mai is instead credited as ‘electronics and vocals’. (For vocals read wordless chanting).
The new album has nine guest musicians to extend the sonic palette which includes violinist Jessica Moss from Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra and Michiyo Yagi playing the koto, a Japanese stringed instrument. Maybe they just reasoned that this was just impossible to recreate in a live setting but. if so, why put the album cover on all the promotional packages.
Ultimately, none of this matters greatly. The two faces of Zu co-exist very nicely to make them one of the most interesting and imaginative Italian bands I’ve come across of late. I’d heartily recommend that you see them in concert if you get the chance and that you check out the new album. Just don’t expect the two to sound like one another.