Led Zeppelin's concert film "The Song Remains The Same" contains a scene in
which a sinister-looking horseman clad in matching black cape and top hat
rides through the night to the eerie strains of "No Quarter." After
terrorizing the local townsfolk, the figure returns to his home and morphs
into an affable family man surrounded by his adoring children.
This shape-shifting horseman reappears on Zooma, an album on which former Zeppelin bassist/ keyboardist John Paul Jones explores the many shades of morbidity.
The other surviving members of Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page and Robert Plant)
have pursued independent solo careers and collaborations, the most recent
being Walking Into Clarksdale (1998). Jones, on the other hand, has
shied away from the spotlight, instead returning to his roots as
sideman, arranger and producer for everyone from R.E.M. to Peter Gabriel to
the Butthole Surfers.
Finally, after decades of playing other peoples' music, Jones has released his
own artistic statement. A bass-lovers' banquet, Zooma is not only a
return to the dramatic, bluesy composition of Zeppelin but also
a showcase of craftsmanship and musical architecture. Of the nine songs,
almost all rock with bone-crushing intensity. With
swirling processed guitar and bombastic drums thrown into the mix, Jones and
his backing musicians sound vaguely like Primus, though with less funk, more
clunk and thud. The title track ("Zooma" [RealAudio excerpt])
kicks off with a heavy Claypoolian riff amid a
dense texture of gurgling wah-inflected bass. On "Grind" Jones digs deeper
still, unleashing a roiling cauldron of 12-string bass.
"The Smile of Your Shadow" (RealAudio excerpt)
offers respite from the low-end onslaught,
beginning with a slow, plaintive interplay between slide bass and djembe (a
hand drum) before bubbling into a rousing Celtic swamp stomp. Jones gets a lot
of mileage out of his slide, particularly on the Zeppelinesque "Nosumi Blues"
(think "In My Time Of Dying") and "Snake Eyes" (RealAudio excerpt). The latter, which ends in a
sweeping orchestral movement, showcases Jones' skills as an
organist and arranger.
Many of the remaining songs on the album "Goose," "B. Fingers" and "Tidal" in particular follow the "pummel the listener into submission" formula. It's an approach that could easily grow tedious were it not for the layers of subtle sounds that Jones scatters behind muscular bass lines. In the press release Jones warns that "Melody doesn't have to be pretty." Or light. Zooma proffers the ominous rumblings of a man who clearly favors night