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Zooma—8

Released: 1999

1)  Zooma  2) Grind  3) The Smile of Your Shadow  4) Goose  5) Bass'n'Drums  6) B. Fingers  7) Snake Eyes  8) Nosumi Blues  9) Tidal

 

John Paul Jones, born John Baldwin, is the multi-talented former session man and arranger for a wide variety of famous 1960s acts.  He played on Donavan’s “Mellow Yellow” and “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” on Jeff Beck’s “Truth” LP, on the Rolling Stones’ “Their Satanic Majesty’s Request,” and various Herman’s Hermits, Yardbirds, Cat Stevens, Rod Stewart, Lulu, Dusty Springfield, and Tom Jones records.  He is one of the greatest and most consistently brilliant bass players in rock, is a very underrated keyboardist, a fine songwriter and arranger, and by all accounts a laid back and humble guy.  Since the 1960s he has worked with many acts, on and off, including REM, Brian Eno, and the Butthole Surfers…Oh yeah, he was also in Led Zeppelin.

 

Zooma” is John Paul Jones’s first ever solo album.  On the record he plays 4, 10, and 12 string bass, electric mandola, mandolin, Kyma, bass lap steel, organ, guitar, arranges and conducts the London Symphony Orchestra, writes every song, and even mixes all but one.  The entire album is instrumental and is an extremely heavy and impressive record above all else.          

 

The music on the opening number, "Zooma," just comes right out and hits you, featuring strange background scream noises and Jones’s harsh bass.  He rips through the entire tune, with passion and cohones.  It really is just the same riff over and over again, but the thumping, driving bass sucks you right in and makes for a hard rocking, captivating way to lead off your solo debut album as a 53 year old.  Grind” is really just an extension of the title track with an added guitar solo by Trey Gunn.  It doesn’t break any new ground and tends to drag a little directly following the far superior “Zooma.”

 

The Smile of Your Shadow” quiets things down with a sublimely depressing atmosphere.  Jones playing mandolin, along with his 12 string bass, absolutely shines.  The track slowly builds and eventually abandons its toned down mood for a more forceful sound, but keeps the introspective aura intact and really is an excellent song.  Goose” sounds like “When the Levee Breaks,” with a Chicago blues, swampy feel.  It compensates for its lack of vocals by adding sonic blasts of noise where words might fit…but still somehow manages to rock.  Bass ‘n’ Drums” is just that, amazingly expressive bass playing on top of jazz style drums.  The song is a little too short to fully appreciate, but trust me, it is impressive. 

 

B. Fingers” is the best of the hard rocking songs on the album…similar to “Zooma” but with more structure, rhythm changes, and terrific guitar splashes.  The guitar solo itself is a little too ruthless for my taste, but the overall song dominates—power and energy.  Snake Eyes” follows and is the best song on the album.  The main riff is a classic and could stand by itself, but the added orchestration and organ solo played by Jones, push this song to landmark status.  When all the rock instruments bow out and leave the orchestra to finish the last two minutes of the song, it is the best moment on the record, with goose bump results, and a true testament to Jones’s ability as an arranger.   

 

Nosumi Blues” reeks of barroom blues.  Dirty, rugged, and cheap hooker sounding from start to finish, it is another highlight on an album with quite a few.  I didn’t want to say it…I went this far without, didn’t I…but Jones really had a lot more to do with Zeppelin’s sound than given credit for.  If this song isn’t the true essence of his former band, alive in 1999, then I’m not sure there ever could be…what a great tune.  Tidal,” a perfectly descriptive title, closes the album and brings back the sound of the first two tracks…hard pushing bass with drums.  The guitar solo is reminiscent of Rage Against the Machine, and the tune is overwhelming to my poor little ears.  A telltale ending to a hard-hitting album.  

 

I hate instrumentals, I really do.  I am very much a word man, and love when artists can punctuate their sound with interesting or effective lyrics.  But honestly, this album rules without them.  With music this harsh, there is just no need...the mood carries itself.  If anyone out there thought John Paul Jones was nothing more than a quiet sideman…the only member of Led Zeppelin who wouldn’t sell his soul to make it big…just listen to this record a few times and you will be in for a pleasantly loud awakening.
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