A Very Different Kind of "Power Trio"
even more provocative percussion?
Since forming in 2003 the Avant-garde improvisational jazz trio Zen Widow has produced three albums for the Italian objet-a label. This is their fourth. Label founder Gianni Gebbia is the group's Bb soprano saxophonist. Matthew Goodheart plays piano as well as something called a transducer actuated gong. The percussionist who has a great deal to say on this record is Garth Powell. Yes, that Garth Powell, which is why upon hearing about this record I quipped "Is it a power trio?"
Garth of course designs AudioQuest's power conditioners and its A.C. and signal carrying cables. He's also an extremely talented percussionist as you'll discover listening to this record, which was produced by "Tone Poet" Joe Harley and engineered by Mike Ross, who in the 1990s recorded many of the classic AudioQuest Music records at Ocean Way Studios, produced by Harley including highly coveted releases by Mighty Sam McLain, Doug MacLeod and many others.
The recording venue was famed Capitol Studios "A" live to two-track analog tape, May 2022 with another familiar engineering name, Steve Genewick assisting. Kevin Gray mastered and cut lacquers. The production is "double A"—analog recording and analog cutting with the exception of one track that required a minor vocal level adjustment so is D-A-A.
That's why the group's fourth record, distributed by, and available through Intervention Records, is getting attention here that the first three did not, which is not to say the first three are not worthy of attention.
The group improvises on this record around medieval compositions as well as Welsh folk melodies and in one composition, the Bach Cello Suites. The sonics on this record are stupendous—they push every audiophile button: enormous dynamic contrasts, spectacular transparency, three-dimensionality, soundstaging glory, transient perfection, low bass to test any subwoofer system.
If you are expecting a 'but' here, you will be disappointed. The music, while challenging and at first seemingly "free-form" to the point of sounding disjointed, incomprehensible and even self-indulgent, begins to make sense after a few plays. If you need an anchor try "Bachernaught" track three on side one. It's immediately lovely and the rhythmic thrust easy to grasp.
With each play, more of the vision and cohesion becomes clear. In the meantime the spectacular sonics should keep at bay even the most confused or even "what is this stuff?" anger—not that, despite the off the charts spectacular sound, this will ever replace The Eagles or Stevie Ray Vaughan in the rooms of timid hi-fi exhibitors, which is a real shame because the sound here will blow minds, if not in a couple of places subwoofers.
Side two might be a great place to start or if side one is too much. The first few pieces are based on anonymous compositions from the Codex Burana, which is "one of the best known anthologies of medieval songs" according to this website. It's related to "Carmina Burana", which sweeps through every freshman college dorm—or at least it did when I went in what are now considered medieval times.
When side two's second track "Flete, Fidelis, Anme" begins, it might be prudent to be close to your volume control. It packs a powerful blast of low frequency energy. It and the third track "Evagrius", are among the most engaging, intriguing and mood enhancing on the record. Somehow it reminds me of Sonny Rollins.
Mr. Gebbia elicits a gorgeous round, sweet and mysterious, snake-charmer like tone from his instrument and Mr. Goodheart's grand piano work and especially his transducer-actuated gong, which would make J. Arthur Rank jealous, captivates but on this record it's difficult to not be captivated by Garth Powell's imaginative percussive work, both rhythmically and texturally. It shimmers, it smacks almost violent punctuation marks and it's never out of place or excessive though it is deliberate and rambunctious!
The finale, "Gower Wassail" with "vocal support" by Dwight Trible is credited as "Traditional-Welsh" in the notes and is said to "speak of survival through a bleak age". Au currant!
For more about Zen Widow go here but to really get the lowdown, take a chance on this exceptional well-played, well-conceived and reference disc quality recording. Definitely one I'll bring to the Capital Audio Fest in November and recommended!