[4 July 2007]
In keeping with his gypsy roots and multicultural sensibility, Moreno Visini, otherwise known as Zeb, takes us around the world on a musical journey so exhilarating that we cannot help but want to jump off the Earth as it rotates on its axis. Or do we? Zeb’s music is not the kind you want to stop listening to; rather, it’s the kind that compels you to drive three more times around the block just so that you can hear one more song on the CD before parking the car and facing the routine task of burning dinner.
The analogy is an apt one given Zeb’s own myriad journeys around the planet. He was born in a small Italian village, was raised partially in London and, although he is currently settled in New York, his career has been marked by a willingness to explore the Earth’s rich cultural traditions. Listening to Stop the Earth ideally takes place on the road, in the air or, at the very least, in a psychologically or emotionally mobile space.
Paradoxically, then, this latest release is cited as Zeb’s most accomplished and grounded work to date. It’s easy to understand why: despite its solid foundation, Stop the Earth invites us to dance in a way Zeb’s first two releases did not while also showcasing the artist’s own attitude toward the various societies that have alternately housed or marginalized him. Zeb’s revolutionary love of eclecticism, for instance, not only reminds us of the importance he places on his gypsy heritage but it also emerges triumphantly in the disc’s impressive range of textural diversity. Indian and Arabic grooves shift almost seamlessly into Afro-Caribbean beats and rhythms, and these, in turn, shift almost seamlessly into a New York underground that has been irrevocably changed thanks to artists such as Zeb.
Stop the Earth is no more and no less than an exercise in hybridity, that is, a fusion of two or more musical forms that communicates the literal and figurative movement of peoples, goods and cultural ideas across increasingly porous borders. Much has been said about the virtues of border-crossings, yet few artists seem capable of fusing disparate musical traditions without privileging one form over another. The title of the second track, “Revolutionary Dreams”, ably captures the ways in which Zeb skillfully blends one type of cultural expression with another in order to envision a world without borders.
For those who like everything the world music category has to offer, Stop the Earth undeniably satisfies. Zeb reproduces the subtle strains of the Middle East with his skillful use of the Arabic Oud, a stringed instrument that works to supplement the disc’s more modern, electronic soundscapes. For his foray into “Afro Disco”, the trip envisioned on the third track, Zeb uses layered percussion techniques to underline the urgency of transculturation. Throughout the disc’s tracks, he employs echo and reverberation to invoke the necessary overlap of musical genres in a world where national borders often contain, as opposed to liberate, individuals and collectives. Yet Stop the Earth cannot be characterized as a commodifiable “one-stop shop”. Zeb’s journey is carefully planned and executed despite its generic confusion.
If there is any compulsion to request a stop here, it is only because Zeb overwhelms us with the sheer number of musical mixes. Our brains have to work overtime to identify the musical traditions cited and, if we are to understand how they mix with others, they have to work even harder. By the time you reach the reggae beat of “Skunkaliscious,” you’re in the ecstatic throes of sensory overload.
Then again, you can always sit back and never mind how the journey manages to sustain itself in a unified, coherent fashion. One of the virtues of this disc is that it offers something to the concentrated listener and the lazy traveler alike. At any rate, staying on this ride is not difficult. To his credit, Zeb reminds us that despite the prevalence of negative forces, the Earth is still worth exploring.