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Zs - Karate Bump

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Artist: Zs

Album: Karate Bump

Label: Planaria

Review date: Apr. 7, 2005

If recent theories are correct, and the human perception of beauty is based on symmetry, New York’s Zs could be the world’s most beautiful band. The sextet not only consists of two drummers, two saxophonists, and two guitarists, but, in the live setting, the corresponding musicians set up virtually facing one another, creating a mirror-image visual that’s further exaggerated by the group’s matching outfits and the rather uncanny similarities in the looks of the instrumental pairs. Identical twins they’re not, but the parallel qualities of the group give Zs a rather distinctive look onstage. Their music is even more arresting.

Zs were formed in New York City in 2000, a byproduct of the Wet Ink Collective, a nonprofit group of New York composers and musicians. Saxophonists Sam Hillmer and Alex Mincek, founding members of Wet Ink, are Zs’ primary composers and mainline into contemporary composition and new music. The group’s membership is rounded out by the excellent duos of drummers Brad Wentworth and Alex Hoskins and guitarists Charlie Looker and Matt Hough. Zs are referred to as a chamber group as often as a prog band, and jazz ensemble could be thrown in to the mix just as easily, since the group’s compositions draw equally from each of these sources. Karate Bump follows the release of a debut CD on Troubleman Unlimited’s Vothoc imprint, as well as a one-sided 10” released by Ricecontrol. The EP clocks in at under 20 minutes, but that’s more than enough time for Zs to evidence their status as one of the most exciting bands currently working in the avant-garde today.

“Bump,” a collectively composed piece of subtle minimalism, could be Zs best work to date. It never rises much above a whisper, but the rhythmic, micro-tribal patter of the drums, breathy horn work and hushed guitar riffs create an absolutely ensnaring web, building in repetitive momentum without boiling over or resorting to a cacophonous climax, or the usual epic formula of soft-loud-soft. The chain is interrupted, continued, and finishes in a gentle dénouement, a final sigh that perfectly ends the piece. “Karate,” a Mincek composition, gives full attention to the horn players; Mincek and Hilmer perform alone, vaulting simultaneously through a gauntlet of jazzy acrobatics. Like many Zs compositions, part of the song’s strength lies in the interplay of the “twin” voices, their ability to remain synchronous throughout the piece’s most twisted passages while straying just enough for the perfect complement. The third, and untitled, track from Karate Bump is without title or compositional credits, percolating slowly over an up-and-down series of steps from the guitar and drums.

Karate Bump may only be an EP, and perhaps won’t qualify for some laudatory year-end lists, but Zs definitely put more into these 20 minutes than most bands do an hour. Risking hyperbole, this is a high quality document from one of the more interesting, stimulating and intelligent bands in action today. Highly recommended.

By Adam Strohm

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