Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Free Zen Society - (self titled) (Thirsty Ear, 2007)

The Thirsty Ear label has done many experimental discs of the "jazztronica" variety over the years, but this may be the one that goes furthest out into the cosmos, being a little more 'tronica than jazz. According to the liner notes, pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist William Parker and harpist Zeena Parkins got together in 2003 for a studio jam session, and then the tapes of that music lay gathering dust until label head Peter Gordon used electronics to remix and reinterpret the sound into the current format. The results are intriguing, but somewhat baffling, leaving the jazz realm for a meditational realm that wouldn't feel out of place on the old NPR show Music From the Hearts of Space. Instruments bubble up from the mist, with Shipp's bell-like piano gaining most of the attention. On "Thought Free" he intones dark bass notes through the permeating electronic swirl. Parker's bowed bass and Gordon's eerie electronic soundscapes combine to interesting effect on "Surrender" but the song I enjoyed the most was the brief "Glistening" where Parkins' harp was gently altered by the electronics to produce a cool Alice Coltrane like vibe. Although the music is interesting, it is tough to really embrace due to the cold and clinical feel imposed by the arranging electronics. It would have been interesting if the original unaltered trio session was included as a bonus CD to compare and contrast with the electronically enhanced music.

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