is even greater than its parts
The world has gotten so small that ZUM, a quirky quintet based in London, can reach around the sphere in the space of a single piece. The group’s program at the Lensic Performing Arts Center was smartly constructed and thoroughly entertaining, never in the least didactic or pretentious. Gypsy fiddling and Argentine “new tango” inform much of the group’s music— the name “ZUM” is borrowed from the title of a tune by Astor Piazzolla— and a few of the numbers performed by the ensemble were relatively pure renderings of existing compositions, including a splendid go at Piazzolla’s “Concierto Para Quinteto.” More often, though, these styles serve as points of departure for entirely original compositions. The group’s arrangement of “La Cumparsita,” the grand classic of tangos, opens with a symphony of creaks, groans, and barnyard grunts before finally yielding (for a while) to a lyrical accordion solo, and then to utter sonic hysteria. In another number, we imagine Johannes Brahms, with the score of a Hungarian dance tucked in his pocket, dropping in at a bar mitzvah and who knows where else before running out of gas late at night at a West Texas roadhouse, where a country-western lament hangs listlessly in the air. The players are consummate musicians of impressive breadth, some of whom enjoy parallel careers as classical soloists and chamber musicians. All deserve individual shout-outs: violinist Adam Summerhayes (who composed several of the group’s numbers), pianist David Gordon (fluent master of many styles), cellist Chris Grist (who doubled as the amusing master of ceremonies), button accordionist Eddie Hessian (joined at the hip to tango), and big-personality double bassist Malcolm Creese (filling in for this tour only, as the bass position is currently in flux).
ZUM has been on a tear in the recording studio. Its brandnew CD, Zummism, furnished many of the eclectic numbers that figured in its Santa Fe concert: “Rooftop Highway,” the group’s program opener, which ranges from cool jazz to sizzling bluegrass; “La Cumparsita”; “Blue Dream,” a tender fantasy on a Finnish lullaby; “Balkan Trilogy,” bristling with irregular but captivating meters; an “English Tango,” part Argentine, part Japanese, and part VaughanWilliams. An all-Piazzolla disc follows later this month, and advance samples suggest that aficionados of new tango will find it stimulating if unorthodox. If you get just one CD, I’d recommend Zummism for its unbridled diversity and madcap gaiety. “Music thieved from the four corners of the earth, and played in inappropriate styles,” proclaims the CD cover. Maybe, but “inappropriate” can be oh so fun. If you have trouble locating these releases through your usual sources, you can acquire them directly through ZUM’sWeb site: zum.org.uk.