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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Zed-U Night time on the Middle Passage

Night Time on the Middle Passage

Although groups such as Led Bib, Troyka and Partisans occupy significantly different aspects of the spectrum, they all share a desire to move the boundaries as to what might or might not be classified as jazz these days. Now we can add to this distinguished list the debut album of Zed-U.

Having formed only two years ago, Shabaka Hutchings (tenor sax, clarinet), Neil Charles (electric and synth bass) and Tom Skinner (drums, keyboards and voice) have been creating quite an impression on the live circuit.

Augmented by carefully deployed electronica, their chosen way of working alternates between the resonant echo-heavy interiors of dub and a standard jazz trio.

The economy with which Hutchings and the team set out on a series of instrumentals is impressive. Traveling so lightly means they leave plenty of room for each other in what is largely a restrained affair.

Though Hutchings' tenor playing is crisp and clean throughout, it's his beautiful clarinet work that takes centre stage and demands attention. The instruments innately sonorous, often mournful qualities are frequently complimented by Skinner’s gentle fronds of chilled sine-wave synth.

On the multi-sectioned, eight minute long Breaking The News there's a dreamy nonchalance sometimes to Hutchings' phrases but when it reaches out of the washes of reverb and loops, he makes stark and emotive assertions.

However, it doesn't always fire on all cylinders. The barking freak-out strategy of Surman Part 2 (one of two homages to sax and clarinet maestro John Surman) sounds more akin to an in-joke than than the product of necessary expression.

Though it occasionally lacks compositional punch, Zed-U's debut is nevertheless an accomplished affair that suggests the band have the capacity to grow and evolve into something very special indeed.

This review first appeared here.

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