When Zevious first started out in 2006, they were like any guitar/acoustic bass/drums jazz trio, but soon after their self-titled 2007 debut, they decided they didn’t want to be like any jazz trio. First, Zevious got louder: bassist Johnny DeBlase ditched his standup acoustic bass and reached for an electric. Guitarist Mike Eber swapped out his hollowed-body axe for a Strat. Both plugged into the big amps and distortion pedals. And drummer Jeff Eber forsaked traditional swing for muscular polyrhythms.
Thus, the abrupt leap into the abyss for their follow-up album After The Air Raid (2009), which catapulted them into the fringe frontier of jazz. So much so that it’s as much the opposite of jazz as it is part of the art form. Individual improvisation is a thing of the past to this group: the composition itself, with its highly mathematical progression, jarring changes and octave displacements and repetitive riffing become the means to achieve uncommon group improvisation.
Passing Through The Wall builds on this bold new direction with Through The Wall, their second one for Cuneiform. The math-metal, avant-prog, punk-jazz ethos is not only present, it’s the band’s DNA, now.
For all the ideas and they’re stuffing into these songs, they never dwell on anything overlong. The anti-jam band, Zevious keeps it concise, precise and stout. Starting with the one-two punch of “Attend To Your Graduation” and “Was Solis,” the former is a series of knotty, dense figures where the tempo slows down then speeds up again and goes right into the latter with almost no disruption of the groove even when the root key changed. DeBlase steps up to co-frontline role with Mike Eber, a thunderous, always-active bass remindful of Geddy Lee’s.
Jeff Eber, meanwhile, is authoring some assertive, algebraic rhythms that even Robert Fripp could get excited about. “Pantocyclus” runs on an eccentric 6/8 meter, with a relentless, dark repeating figure that ascends up to a similar figure punctuated by jarring stops. Jeff Eber paces “White Minus Red” using a galloping beat with a hitch in it. DeBlase is in lock step, leaving Mike Eber to express himself with a series of deadly riffs. Later, he gets into some tight coordination with Jeff. This is a song is all about interaction that allows no room for error and they nail it with dead-on accuracy.
In fact, how the three musicians fit like pieces into a song puzzle is often what makes up the composition of each track. For “A Crime Of Separate Action” it’s the Eders who sync up together as DeBlase offers a countering harmony and the melody travelling across a series of related motifs. “Passing Through The Wall” is a closely integrated rumble, the group operating as a single musician for the extended, repeating opening pattern that modulates from one contour to another.
They finally slow down for the final cut, “Plying The Cold Trade,” but this ain’t no ballad; it’s lumbers along morbidly like Black Sabbath, only with a few jazz fusion chords folded in. Mike Eber doesn’t ever solo, but his heavy, cantankerous shapes get the point of gloom and doom across.
Zevious asserts itself again fearlessly straddling the fences between jazz, prog rock, metal and the avant garde. There might be a few other bands doing that, but Through The Wall shows how it’s done right.