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The Zanussi Five, brainchild of Norwegian bassist Per Zanussi, showcases his vivid, wide-ranging compositions. Zanussi is a powerful bassist with a huge, booming tone, and impeccable time, even at racehorse tempos. This music is vibrant, fast, and very modern. It is expressionistic, replete with saxophones that sigh, moan, honk, and howl. At the same time, it bursts with energy and swing.
It's also utterly unpredictable. "Valzer," for example, is a slinky waltz with a sly, witty melody that offers respite from the fireworks that have dominated much of the album prior to its emergence. The piece is seductive and deceptively gentle, until it suddenly bursts into very fast, assertive 4/4 swing as one of the musicians digs in and plays a driving, unruly improvisation on baritone saxophone. Just as suddenly, the waltz re-emerges and wends its tongue-in-cheek way.
Most of the music on this album was composed by Zanussi, although there is a wild rendition of Ornette Coleman's "Street Woman." Most of the album has a relentless, in-your-face feeling, accentuated and emphasized by the huge tones and wide vibratos of the saxophonists, as well as the clattering, albeit swinging, drumming of Per Oddvar Johansen. The three horn players are credited only as playing "saxophones," so it is impossible to know which musician is soloing at any given time. Much of the improvisation is collective or contrapuntal as the saxophonists weave complex lines around each other, the rhythm section, and the beguiled listener.
However, Zanussi's compositions are always interestingand sometimes impressive. The opening one-two punch of "Fritz/Fri 14th" takes the listener by storm, and the album proceeds without letting up until the gentle unfolding of "Kef." Per Zanussi is to be commended for his uncompromising presentation: the jazz on Zanussi Five brooks no compromise and unflinchingly faces the future.