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Published: 2006/09/19
by Randy Ray

all iZ – Zilla

It would be a mistake to label Zilla a String Cheese Incident side project helmed by percussionist Michael Travis. Actually, it would also be an error to label the trio just about anything you can dig up in the old Webster’s or my trusty copy of A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. Unconventional would be a start but suffice it to say that the Colorado live dance/trance machine specializes in 100% improvisatory music, which incorporates a delicate balance between imagination, talent and experience.

After releasing a handful of experimentally successful live albums, Zilla has delivered their first studio-crafted work. The cleverly titled mirror image all iZ features Jamie Janover on hammered dulcimer and numerous sublime acoustic instruments and Aaron Holstein on bass, keyboards and sampling while Travis resembles an octopus while playing drums, MalletKAT, sampler, keyboards and various sundry percussion instruments. Recorded over two days in February 2006, the band edited the improvisation in true jamband fashion into nearly two hours of music sliced and mashed into thirteen psychedelic mind warp grooves. The songs forego normal structure by developing moods based on real time exploration without a hint of preconceived notions.

When Zilla’s concentrated experimental gems work, the hypnotic chain of events leads one into unknown celestial dreamscapesthe opening “Waffle Roast” is ten minutes of Zilla at full strength with peeling liquid paint dancing around the effervescent fires of mad dance exotica, the brilliantly titleda nod to Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips, perhaps?“Funeral March of the Penguin Mafia” circles the cosmic wormhole with weird echo effects and wah wah rhythm bursts which glean a bit from a Jerry Garcia super jam circa 2032; “Hidden Raisin” is a fantastic updating of some of Brian Eno and David Byrne’s tapestries; “Bee Rakes”a brilliant breakneck cornucopia of Travis at his heady best as his percussion dexterity defies definition, logic and speed limits; the sixteen-minute “Onomonopoet” encapsulates the varied talents of Janover on dulcimer and percussion and serves as the finest example of his unique ear for audio voyages.

When the experimentation doesn’t fly, which is rare, the band eclipses the mix and shuts the piece down before it becomes too rote; hence, “Milk Man” and “Leptons and Bosons” which contain interesting ideas but don’t appear to have the gas to extend past the gates of improv angelic eden. Indeed, for improvised music, the edited selections are chosen well without too much self-indulgence. Zilla plays tones, post-beat architecture and lush scenery with imagery floating downstream from some unseen singular group mind.

This sort of groovy dance/trance mosaic is not very easy to play as its results in lesser hands would equate to incomprehensible muse meanderings. The proof that a genre called Zilla is enduringly successful in their artistic pursuits may reside in this debut studio release. For added measure, there is a trippy tone poem called “The Zilliad” written by Ina Grigorova within a CD package that ranks high as 2006’s most delicious bit of eye candyan apt companion to the sonic delights contained within.

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