It roars, dilutes, squeals, shrieks, pulsates and squawks. Welcome to the world of Zu.
Cortar Todo materializes roughly six years after Zu’s previous album, Carboniferous, and its task is indeed of a difficult nature. Not only had these Romans achieved an almost perfect balance between experimentalism and fluidity while on a mission to engage a wider audience, but the outcome managed to arouse interest well outside their niche. Massimo Pupillo (bass), Luca Mai (sax baritone) and Gabe Serbian (drums), of the Locust fame, have managed to revolutionize their sound while sticking to their mission. I hear you: this is an over-used sentence all reviewers (good and bad) use, at some point. But this time it’s different, and these lads go out of their way to prove that another world is possible, and experimental instrumental noise-jazz trios are made up of people like us.
Take the influences which are notable on this album. The list is endless, as it touches on French Zeuhl (Magma, ça va sans dire) and its Japanese disciples (Koenjihyakkei) or progressive extraordinaires Upsilon Acrux and Oxbow. Surprised not to find the likes of John Zorn and Fantômas on the first two paragraphs of this review? Fret not, as there are glimpses here (“Orbital Equilibria”) and there (“A Sky Burial”) of their art, but this is diluted, wisely administered to an otherwise perfectly approachable texture. Pupillo’s roaring bass occupies a wide range of frequencies while trying to keep the trio on a path of musical consistency. The saxophone screeches, squeals, shrieks and squawks in an effort to counter the throbs pulsating out of Mai’s beautifully tortured skins.
Zu know how to handle the groove, and even though you may not notice, by the time you’re listening to “Rudra Dances Over Burning Rome" you are totally immersed in free-jazz, hints of doom metal and a diabolical melody, right before the title-track finishes you off with an astonishing sequence of mechanical repetitions. This can be defined “post-noise” because it sublimates the psychotic impulses into a semblance of rationality, while still spreading the love for cacophony and distortion, as the band does in “A Sky Burial” before finding itself in the sulfuric waters of “Serpensa Cauda”, where the music breathes in and the organic facet of Zu’s unpredictable musical spectrum takes the lead. This is music that creates because it knows all too well how to deconstruct. Hence the beauty of an anxious sonic poem like “No Pasa Nada” and the fading grace of the last number, “Pantokrator”.
So what is it that doesn’t fully work on this album? Nothing. Absolutely nil. What “does not work” is what is not here. As someone who has known the band for more than 15 years, as soon as I heard that Zu had reworked their brand I expected them to have pushed the boundaries a bit more. Instead, one is left with an album which is both brilliant and slightly vague in the experimental department. Zu’s line-up has changed (former drummer and multi-instrumentalist Jacopo Battaglia has now joined forces with various other bands) and this has surely contributed to the creation of a fantastic minimalist hybrid like Cortar Todo (quite aptly: “to cut all” in Spanish). Once again: the overwhelming majority of bands on this planet could never reach the apex where Zu have been sitting comfortably since 1999. But it is for this reason that one should never be happy with what the trio manages to create. The Romans have done it for us, but it’s now up to them to keep up the great work. And this album proves that they have all the best intentions.