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Zoöphyte: Signs Of Life

Ian Patterson By

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A zoophyte is the ancient Greek term for an invertebrate animal resembling a plant. So, an odd name for a band, perhaps. Mythical zoophytes, like the plant that grew sheep as its fruit, were commonplace in Medieval herbals—tomes describing the culinary, toxic, hallucinatory, aromatic, and magical qualities of plants. These were, in less scientific times, attempts to explain the origin of exotic plants. So far so strange. It takes only one listen to Signs of Life, however, to understand the name of singer Peter Jones's project, for exotic it undoubtedly is, with roots gloriously entangled in the soils of jazz, pop and psychedelic music.

On these unfailingly sunny, pleasingly quirky tunes, Jones reveals his Mark Murphy muse. The author of the biography This Is Hip -The Life of Mark Murphy (Equinox Publishing, 2018), Jones' rhythmic versatility, his harmonic sophistication and crooner stylizations all owe something to Murphy. Yet Jones and co-composer Trevor Lever's original material draws as much from '80s New Romantic pop, and '60s psychedelic pop, as it does from jazz, while Jones' lyrics are a world unto themselves. On the upbeat "Los Retablos," Jones sings brightly of dangerously seductive mermaids, goat-stealing demons and the power of positive thinking, while guitarist Rob Luft and trumpeter Graeme Flowers's solos stamp some serious jazz credentials on the tune.

Sophie Alloway's brushes, and bassist Andrew Cleyndert's slow groove, instill laid-back swing on "Füsun," a delightful, blues-tinged number with handsome solos from Luft and pianist Ross Stanley. Jones' delivery on this bitter-sweet tale of love lost, and on the shimmering, Hammond organ-driven swinger "House on the Corner," position the singer in a lineage somewhere between Frank Sinatra and Kurt Elling. There is a more contemporary AOR vibe to "Stone Cold Killah" and "(Feel Like I'm) Chained to a Rock" with their percolating Latin percussion and horns arrangements, while dreamy psychedelia pervades the mellow instrumental "Olive Butterfly and Stork"—modern fables all, of decidedly personal design.

Jones' sultry vocals mesmerize on "Caribou," which sounds like the lost, B-side gem of an old Robert Palmer single. "What's Your Favourite Planet?," perhaps more than any other song, epitomizes Zoöphyte's wildly hybrid nature. Its snappy pop beat, and Jones' lighthearted lyrics about interplanetary love, steer it close to the novelty-tune rocks, but the infectious neo-soul and jazz funk grooves, spiced by Luft, and tenor saxophonist Vasilis Xenopoulos's scintillating interventions, lift it into the realm of the sublime. The vignette "My Dreams are all in Black and White," with Jones backed by vocalist Kitty Whitelaw, rounds out a sparkling set on a low-key note.

Track Listing

Los Retablos; Füsun; Stone Cold Killah; House On The Corner; Olive, Butterfly And Stork; (Feel Like I'm) Chained To A Rock; Caribou; What's Your Favourite Planet?' My Dreams Are All In Black And White.

Personnel

Peter Jones: vocals; Rob Luft: guitar; Ross Stanley: keyboards; Graeme Flowers: trumpet; Vasilis Xenopoulos: tenor saxophone; Nick Mills: trombone; Andrew Cleyndert: bass; Sophie Alloway: drums; Will Fry: percussion; Kitty Whitelaw: backing vocals.

Album information

Title: Signs Of Life | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Howlin' Werewolf Records

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