Certain bands seem to find their way into your field of vision, regardless of where you may happen to be looking. The Brooklyn, NY based band Zaza, who are visionaries themselves, seem to have successfully embedded themselves on my sonic windscreen. Having met songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Danny Taylor in early 2008 at a Pains Of Being Pure At Heart show, it wouldn't be until July of 2009 before I actually saw Zaza perform live, when they appeared outdoors at the South Street Seaport as part of the River To River festival series.
I was instantly captivated by the bands sound and image. On stage a three piece, with Danny stage left, playing guitar, singing lead and running all kinds of loops and effects. The middle of the stage belonged to Jennifer Fraser. A statuesque brunette who alternated between bass guitar and keyboards. Jennifer, looking casually glamorous in one of fashion designer Caycee Black's dresses provided a visual focal point, as she slowly danced out the rhythm of the bass notes she was playing. To the right was drummer percussionist Dru Prentiss who plays in that stand up style popularized first by Mo Tucker in The Velvet Underground and later on by Bobby Gillespie in the first incarnation of The Jesus & Mary Chain.
Catching Zaza live once again during the October 2009 CMJ showcase at The Cake Shop, I was impressed with how their sound had evolved from just three months earlier. At one particular point in their set, Danny would lead the band through an over seven minute trance/drone piece, that was at first recognizable, but then morphed into something completely different. The guitars tones were rich and deep as Danny sang in a falsetto voice. Jen delivered a complimentary yet countering bass line, as Dru played a thumping tom-tom beat over the top of drum machine patterns triggered by both Danny and Dru. It needs to be noted that nothing is prerecorded in their shows, but electronic sources like the aforementioned drum machines, as well as looping devices are employed. As a result, their songs are always different lengths, assuring that the live element is honestly represented.
It would be the Hex Fest at Pianos at the very end of November where I would next catch Zaza. Their dark and mysterious sound was a perfect fit for this room. With the spotlights strategically placed to allow only their faces and hands to glow, the sheen it produced fit the music perfectly. Danny's alternately single note guitar work and full chords allowed Jen to move freely between deep groove bass notes and keyboard washes. Dru's drumming was clean and prominent - staying on the toms for long periods, only to break that spell with vibrant cymbal splashes as further enhancements.
At points the band sounds a bit like The Cure to me. That is, the Cure of the "Kiss Me Kiss Me" period. The long, rhythmic trance pieces. Dru will lay out a jungle thump pattern, as Danny plays single note melody lines, with Jennifer paying these countering bass lines. Danny vocals can be more like another instrument, than someone actually telling a story. His vocal phrasing sometimes long and drawn out with reverberated effects contributing to the mysterious edge.
One interesting discovery is when a band you respect will occasionally include members of other bands you have equal admiration for. For instance, The Raveonettes - a band I have written about previously on this site, employed Jennifer Fraser to play bass for them on their early 2009 tour. It was actually my first instance of getting to see Jen play live, and I recall being impressed at that time. I had been somewhat aware of Jennifer from her time in the band The Warlocks (her bass playing on their 2005 album "Surgery" being some stand out work).
Back to their live show, at other points the band delves much deeper into a slow trance groove. Percussionist Dru will at times use a mallet to ride the cymbal and a traditional stick on the drums. This adds a unique quality. Danny can consistently be found singing in that reverberated falsetto while Jen searches for the right bass groove. A piece like this can morph midway through to a jam that picks up the rhythm and evolves into a quicker pace. The kind of sonic landscape that would be perfect soundtrack music to a movie about, say an ancient ride through the hills. It's all so heady and organic.
Which brings us to their most recent show - a prime support slot for Oslo Norway's Serena Maneesh at relatively new Brooklyn venue Littlefield on January 23rd. Zaza opened the show with their most recognizable song - the lead single off of their Kanine Records EP "Cameo" titled "Sooner or Later" A wonderfully tripped out rendition, the band marries tribal drumming against Jennifer's pulsating bassline, while Danny sings in that passionate falsetto. Rising and falling keyboard rushes are merged with guitar atmospherics run through looping devices. Time and space appears to be suspended as you become hypnotized by the narcotic sound.
Next up was "Arm's Length" (also from the Cameo EP) where Danny sings "I don't stop till you tell me too, I tell the truth when you tell me too," and "you don't see it if it doesn't look right, and you don't feel it if it doesn't feel right." Lyrically I interpret this song as the intuitive recognition between two lovers and the unspoken communication that is involved. Musically the song blends a tribal percussive pattern with a military insistence, while Jen's bass playing is freed up to roam in a near jazz style of busy improvisation.
Three as of yet unreleased songs titled "You Are What You Aren't," "Burn and Build" and "Death In A Parked Car" (formerly titled "The River") were played in succession - songs they have been playing live - and fueling the anticipation from the audience for the impending release of the bands first full length album later on this year. Zaza has been hard at work in the studio on this record, and there is a definite buzz and anticipation in the air for this record.
They concluded this night's show with the final song off the Cameo EP - "Repetition." Dru marks out a slow marching percussive beat as Jennifer plays keyboard washes and Danny sings about burning ships that "fear the sea" and growing fruit "without a tree." Poetic stuff.
What is constant about Zaza and what appeals to me the most is the dreamlike sonic soundscapes they create. Count me among those who eagerly anticipate their upcoming full length album release.
Here are some links to YouTube videos that are essential:
These are mine:
And this from their kexpradio sessions: