REVIEW: John Paul Jones – Zooma (1999)

JOHN PAUL JONES – Zooma (1999 Discipline Global Mobile)

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!

4/5 stars

Sunday Screening: Davey 504 – 36 string bass solo

Davey 504 is a phenomenal Youtube bassist from Italy. How many strings is too many for a bass? Don’t ask that question of Davey or he’ll slap ya!

“36 strings?!” you exclaim. “Sounds like a gimmick.”

I agree, it is a gimmick. It’s not a practical instrument in any way. But just listen to the guy play! Davey writes really catchy bass instrumental songs, and he uses the entire neck/body/whatever of this bass. The bass is set up to play like it is four 9-string basses in one. Leave a comment after you pick up your jaw from the floor.

R.I.P. Randy Coven – guest shot by Warren Murchie

I read the news today that bassist Randy Coven had passed away at age 54 of undisclosed causes.  My friend and former customer as well as a bassist himself, Warren Murchie, shared a few words regarding the passing of Mr. Coven.


By Warren Murchie

I met Randy Coven first off at a gig he had doubling up with Stu Hamm. Now, Stu’s albums are really good, not only as a bassist but also as a songwriter, and his works with Joe Satriani were incredible to say the least. I do have to say though that at this double bill, with both Randy and Stu and their respective bands and solo CDs, it was Randy that really stepped forward and was nothing short of incredible.

I HAD to talk to the guy afterwards, knowing he was someone that really had something to say to bass players in my mag. He proved to be forthcoming, informative and knowledable, and a hell of a decent character. (Many years later I met Stu Hamm in Switzerland at a bass clinic and he was a great dude too!).

As to Randy,both then and now I regret the fact that he did not have the opportunity or perhaps the wish to really create a portfolio of works. The guy was a brilliant bassist, equal to Billy Sheehan or Gary Strater of Starcastle, but of a different bent musically. It seem to be a good fit that Randy worked both with Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen over the years. He was, as Chris Squire was and is, a Lead Bassist. Like Chris however, Randy knew when to back off and work in a band environment. He could be a Team Player while still being so dazzlingly good he stood out regardless — perhaps because he could play at an Yngwie or Steve Vai level if he needed to, but also knew when to just shut up and hold the groove down.

We are all beholden to Randy, for all he added to the instrument over his all too short life. I know the world of bassists is head over heels in love with what Jaco Pastorius gave to us as a lighthouse in the dark for inspiration, but Randy, never receiving his just dues, added so much as well and demanded little. We are all lesser for the loss of him! If reincarnatinon is true, he will be screaming back here to bring us the next chapter of where bass is going to….