Three words: “Bass”. “Heavy”. “Groove”.
Purchased at Encore Records a short time after its release, Zooma by John Paul Jones blew me away from first listen. If you’re wondering who the heavy influence in Them Crooked Vultures really is, it was Jones this whole time. Just listen to the title track on Zooma. You could be fooled into thinking it’s a brand new jam by the Vultures, so heavy is it.
Zooma is an entirely instrumental solo album, featuring Jones on most of the instruments. On drums is Pete Thomas. Trey Gunn and Paul Leary drop in for some guest appearances. Otherwise it’s largely the JPJ show and his 4, 10 and 12 string basses! What a heavy sound they make.
The second track “Grind” (featuring Gunn on touch guitar) is contrasted by bright highs and the deepest lows of the 12-string bass, all within a killer groove. This track could blow a subwoofer, it’s so bass heavy. The next track “The Smile of Your Shadow” takes things down to the acoustic level, with instruments like bass lap steel, mandola and djembe. It’s the most Zeppelin of the tracks due to its acoustic, quieter nature. “Goose” brings back the heavy groove again, this time on a 10-string bass. The drums have that Zeppelin kind of beat to go with it.
But Jones is so much more than just groove (and Zeppelin references in reviews). “Bass n’ Drums” brings out his jazzy side. Denny Fongheiser on drums this time, and John Paul keeping is single with just four strings this time. But that doesn’t limit his pallette at all, as he plays in a combination lead/rhythm style. That’s just the one track though — Jones is back to 10 strings and a maniacal groove on “B. Fingers”. It’s sonic controlled chaos…with a beat.
As tasty as the bass and grooves are, Zooma is not an easy album to digest. It’s big, it’s large, and the tracks tend towards long and jammy. The longest is “Snake Eyes”, with bass lap steel, organ solos, and members of the London Symphony! It’s easy to imagine “Snake Eyes” as a modern day Led Zeppelin number, and it’s moments like this that will make the Zep diehard weep for what could have been. But it goes on a long time, including a long orchestral outro that sounds like a soundtrack. Brilliant but not for those with short attention spans.
“Nosami Blue” bears some superficial resemblance to the intro to “Absolution Blues” by Coverdale-Page, but this is just because both have the same roots: the blues. Most of the work here is being done once more on a bass lap steel. After a long freeform blues jam, the drums kick in and we get back into a groove. It’s like two songs in one. And that brings us to the final song “Tidal”, which a manic and exhaustive bass workout to take the senses to the final extreme. It is bonkers!
As a quaint leftover from the 1990s, this disc is “enhanced”. That part of the package no longer works, but judging by the contents in the readme.txt file, it was a digital catalogue for DGM records – Robert Fripp’s label. It appears you could actually order CDs from their catalogue right from this program.
In the Record Store days, I was instructed to stop playing this album as some tracks were too heavy. That’s both an endorsement and a warning to you!