NUBDUG ENSEMBLE - Volume One: The Machines Of Zeno

Nubdug Ensemble - Volume One: The Machines Of Zeno

9 songs
19:22 minutes
***** ***
Pest Colors


Californian band Vacuum Tree Head were something like the Beatles of avantgarde, if only that they were led by two principal song writers: Jason Berry and Michael De La Cuesta. Last year, the band split up after a long history of over thirty years playing together. Jason Berry didn’t lose any time starting a new band. Nubdug Ensemble is essentially not that different from his former band, but there are of course things that set them apart. The similarities start with a certain intersection of musicians. Amy X Neuburg for instance also provides vocals here, although not as many. Guitarist Myles Boisen, who collaborated already with artists like Tom Waits, John Zorn, Fred Frith and many more, can also be heard on this debut album. But there are also some new faces: G. Calvin Weston used to drum for jazz legend Ornette Coleman in the seventies and eighties, Paul Hanson on bassoon has been playing with Terry Riley and Billy Cobham. This huge cast of musicians makes of course for a varied and lush sound. Another similarity is the short running time of not even twenty minutes, divided over nine songs.

Volume One: The Machines Of Zeno begins with Espejo. Amy X Neuburg’s vocals are a link to Vacuum Tree Head, although the music comes with a stronger electro funk flair. Bronze Puppet is a funky instrumental jazz tune that reminds me of gangster movies from the fifties. Pimento Boots with vocals courtesy of Lucy Foley is a short jazz piece with precious few text lines, giving a charming if rather silly impression. Spicy Mango makes it just over a minute and has a sunny Caribbean vibe, before things turn more serious with the abstract Logjammin’, an exercise in modern classical music. Trapelo 445 is a lighter jazz rock fusion piece with a certain Canterbury prog feeling. Prelude to Alea Iacta Est is a strange half minute intro to, of course, Alea Iacta Est, which if I am not mistaken comes in 5/4 time and has strong rhythmic similarities to Dave Brubeck’s Take Five. The concluding Act II from Nancy Luna is another weird tune, rather minimalist although coming with quite a lot of instruments.

Compared to his previous band, Jason Berry’s Nubdug Ensemble has a stronger tendency towards jazz, and yet there is also room for other genres, mostly modern classical music and avantgarde, but also (progressive) rock and maybe even a little comedy. For some this might sound more accessible, others might prefer the rawer sound of his previous band. I doubt though that fans of Jason Berry’s body of work will be disappointed by his new band, and we can all hope that Volume One will be followed by many more volumes in the future.

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