John Czajkowski (Guitars and everything) ; Marco Minnemann (Drums); Special guests: Kevin Freeby (Bass); Chris Taylor (Guitar, Keys - 4 & 10)
In 2006 John Czajkowski led his band Hectic Watermelon, featuring Jerry Goodman, on a fiery post-Zappa commando jazz-rock mission with The Great American Road Trip. Now Czajkowski steps it up with drummer phenom Marco Minnemann to engage adventurous listeners in an even more hazardous operation - his new album, West ZooOpolis.
Suggesting the brevity and urgency of fusion special operations communications, the liner notes introduce an odd twist: "Mission Tasking: compose, encrypt and record an album around a 52-minute freely improvised drum performance CODENAME Normalzier 2. No drum edits. All tracks contiguous." Wrapped in enigmatic and minimalist azure blue album art suggesting high desert Cold War spy intrigue and secret codes, the 20 gapless tracks of West ZooOpolis spin a narrative involving a cast of humorous animal characters set to a kaleidoscope of colors emitting intense Ralph Stedman and Hunter Thompson psychic danger. This album is a decidedly Americana fusion that weaves together all that is good in highly technical progressive jazz-rock with Czajkowski's array of classic electric guitar tones and a squadron of his banjos, lap guitars, baritones, acoustic guitars, and pedal steel.
New York downtown composer, Scott Johnson, remarks, "John Czajkowski is a monster guitarist with a metal carapace and a creamy jazz center, sprouting hydra heads of classical picking, insinuating slide, and a particularly funky banjo. He leads us on a tour of the American landscape and all the music that grows here."
The groovy jam-band vibe of the opening track, Bordertowns, introduces his trademark muscled guitars riffing in unison with marimbas, banjo leads in a Southern rock fusion menagerie. This density quickly fades into delicately-choreographed cinematographic Kodachrome 60s Latin jazz and Nashville steel twang of Floridy Motorbungalow. This gives way to the frantic Zappa-esque Eurorobot this is Houston which sounds like the Road Runner on speed. In Three Trains to Tennessee one can't help savoring Americana jazz-rock elements recalling 70s ECM Metheny, Brian Blade with even some acoustic Zeppelin on the side thanks to special guest Chris Taylor. Morphing to the spacious vintage landscapes reminiscent of Ry Cooder in Animal Dreams, the shape-shifting never relents with the Fleck-metal desert fusion metric modulation mash-up of Midget Magi and the Bearded Hippo, frenetic James Bond marimbas in Inspector Iguana, abstract polyrhythm film noire spy themes like Elephant Emergency, and the shredding rock pieces like Viking Rats, Scratchin' with the Turkeys and Chupalupracabra. The album West ZooOpolis attacks with Dixie Dregs tightness and a colorful Felini postmodern audacity. Here is American jazz-rock cowboy coffee: the combined album sounds like an army of albums, a whole division of drummers, and a battalion of bands concentrated into 52-minutes of intensity and beauty.
Although the challenge of writing an album around a virtuosic 52-minute drum solo is unprecedented, Czajkowski explains, "What is indeed new and challenging here is negotiating the duration of Marco's severely complex and beautiful polyrhythmic jungle while staying true to one's own voice and saying something fresh and natural." Czajkowski also reminded us that the drums were never edited at all. "In today's commercial music landscape where things are often overzealously edited, it's refreshing to get to work with a live 52-minute drum take of such great complexity, precision, and creativity." About the range of instruments he plays on the album, he says, "Given the drums' obvious pull towards fusion, prog and other complex styles, I had great fun playing more folksy elements, which have a "normalizing" effect."
Czajkowski commends the other musicians who braved this dangerous musical mission: "My NYC composer buddy, Chris Taylor, adds the mysterious missing element with his profound co-writing and playing on both Three Trains to Tennessee and Mayor Ass." Of former Planet X bassist Kevin Freeby, Czajkowski boasts "Yeah, Kevin's a technical beast, but more importantly, he adds a massive human groove to the most complicated and abstract material Marco and I can dish out. He really helped me glue the whole nutty puzzle together on the bottom end with his killer dark tone and driving playing." Also, guest Ed DeGenaro takes a wild fretless guitar solo at the end of "Viking Rats."
West ZooOpolis began shortly after the Minnemann and Czajkowski were first introduced by mutual friend and Zappa alum, Mike Keneally. Before heading out on the road on a busy tour schedule, Marco invited John to compose an album around a 52-minute continuous drum performance Marco calls "Normalizer 2." Inspired by Marco's wild creativity, Czajkowski began composing music around the already very full and complex-sounding drums. After Minnemann heard the first few segments Czajkowski had written and recorded, he invited other adventurous composers to write other versions and expand the scope of the project. Within a few months, Mike Keneally, Alex Machacek begin_of_the_skype_highlighting end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting end_of_the_skype_highlighting and Trey Gunn began work on their own versions with John also engineering and mixing Mike Keneally's album as well.
WestZooOpolis Track List
2 Floridy Mortorbungalow
3 Eurorobot This Is Houston
4 Three Trains To Tennessee
5 Animal Dreams
6 Midget Magi and the Bearded Hippo
7 Inspector Iguana
8 Elephant Emergency
9 Viking Rats
10 Mayor Ass
11 Where Time Was
12 Scratchin' With The Turkeys
13 Disposable Music
14 Billy Goat Rope
15 Before Your Time
16 West ZooOpolis
18 The Blood and the Ric'lick'shun
19 Three Little Lambs
20 Goodnight Gorilla (Ting Tong Ting)