John Paul Jones
The most underrated musician on the planet, John Paul Jones' credentials are staggering. His enormous contribution to music history traces back to his sessions days, working as a bass/keyboard player, arranger and musical director. The list of artists he was involved with features a wide range of British talent such as: Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Donovan, Jeff Beck, Herman's Hermits and many more. Occasionally, he would see his future band-mate, Jimmy Page, as they teamed up on several sessions including Jeff Beck ("Truth") and The Yardbirds ("Little Games"). He was the first to be recruited by Page who was looking to form a new band, as Jones was growing tired of the session scene.
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The magical chemistry of Led Zeppelin was created between ALL four members; (Jones' contributions seem go unacknowledged lately.) Although he was given the cold shoulder for the current Page/Plant "reunion", Jones appears happier (and better off) playing with the likes of Diamanda Galas and other such diverse artists. One of the elements that made Led Zeppelin so great was their constant musical development and progress that was evident with each album. Perhaps Jones is the only remaining member that has continued to progress and experiment with new styles and directions, without concern for commercial or critical success.
His first tour since the demise of Led Zeppelin (in 1980) occurred with Diamanda Galas in late 1994. Fans lucky enough to have seen this fantastic tour witnessed a rare opportunity to experience Jones' performance in a small venue. He has also worked with Heart on the "The Road Home" album (1995) and performed with them in August 1994 in the "Back Stage" club in Seattle.
The long-awaited project by John Paul Jones was released, September 13th, 1999. It may be difficult to believe that Zooma is really his first solo album, with few releases in the post-Zeppelin years. Since 1980, guest appearances and studio work has helped keep Jones on the cutting edge, never choosing to rely on a Led Zep formula. Zooma is a very personal and comprehensive musical statement, which encompasses a broad range of styles, influences and emotions.
In the early stages of recording the new album, Jones described this all-instrumental project to me as "roaring & powerful". You'll only need one listen for the new material to leap out at you, which features a variety of instruments including 10 and 12-string basses, mandola, bass lap steel and djembe.
The title track, Zooma begins with calming sounds of the sea to set the mood, while a whirlwind hard-driving bass riff sets to burst in. At times, it is reminiscent of Crackback, from the Scream For Help soundtrack and a tinge of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition". Some electric guitar provides screeching background effects and powerchords, which nicely intensifies the song.
Grind features a great low & raunchy bass riff. The song becomes almost ghostly by mid-way, containing overdubed voices, credited as "strange encounter" by Mo and John: ..."I'm watching"... "Why are you watching".. "To see what happens"... "What do you think will happen?" ..."What do you think will happen?" ... "I don't know" ... "I've seen you here before"... "Things are different now".... "You are different"... "Do you care?"... "Then why did you do it?"...."I thought I could get away with it" ... "I was watching. I know who you are".
Changing the mood, The Smile of Your Shadow is a wonderfully melodic musical journey. Softer textures are created on the 12-string bass, mandola and bass lap steel, in the country/folk atmosphere of the song. Once again, the track becomes quite multi-layered.
An eerie intro begins Goose, kicking in with a punchy 10-string bass, with hints of When the Levee Breaks. A great bass lap steel solo by Jones and Kyma are also performed.
Bass 'n' Drums is just what the title indicates - a fun and loose jazzy groove with Jones on 4-string bass and Denny Fongheiser jamming along on the drum kit. This track was recorded in Los Angeles.
Perhaps my favorite song of the promo, B. Fingers is also the heaviest. A strong "in-your-face" 10-string bass grooves with solid drumming. In some ways there are similar elements to the Zeppelin days of Presence, such as Royal Orleans, but now at mach-10! Variations on the riff are interplayed with guitar effects, leading into an incredibly intense crescendo at the end.
The bluesy Snake Eyes develops from the simple driving backbone rhythm into a multi-layered and complex arrangement, as it reaches its peak. Extensive organ solos and jamming are a treat. The orchestra piece, which plays an increasingly dominant role through the song, quickly takes over the song near the end as the rest of the instruments fade. The earlier repetitive riff builds up nicely, almost into a new song of its own with the symphony orchestra.
Nosumi Blues rips into gritty blues licks on the bass lap steel for over 2 minutes, when Pete Thomas kicks in on drums. Jones is also featured on 4-string bass. Layers of pedal steel intensify with extensive soloing as the song fades.
Diamanda Galas would have been perfectly suited for Tidal, which brings to mind Hex from the Sporting Life album. A fast-paced bass riff is intensified with screeching effects by JPJ, and a perfect track to end the album.
Overall, the superb production by John Paul Jones is very striking and adds tremendously to the material. Zooma is Jones' first significant original work since the superb Sporting Life album and tour with Diamanda Galas, in 1994. In ways, some songs are an expansion of the Galas project. Veteran session drummer, Pete Thomas, who also performed and toured with Jones on the Galas project is well-suited for this album.
Zooma is an impressive, hard-edged, and multi-textured CD, offering rare autobiographical musical insight into one of the best artists of our time. It is everything I had hoped it would be... and more. The official release is planned for September 13, 1999, with a tour scheduled for this fall.
- Sam Rapallo (Aug. 3, 1999)
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