In theory, Zu is an improvisational jazz trio, though the musicians often deliver a rock feel that, without the benefit of guitar, is hit or miss. On “Tomaraya Is Our Elvis,” which opens the generally noisy, free-jazz set of The Way of All Animal Powers, the band blurts out Beafheart-esque jazz metal, and I imagine its repetitious grinding main riff will stay with me long after some of the other tracks are forgotten. Massimo Pupillo’s bass clearly drives the menace here, though drummer Jacopo Battaglia and Luca T Mai on sax hint at some of the mayhem they will be causing later on.
“The Aftermath” is also memorable, with a funereal but anxious drone slowly becoming more manic until the song becomes an exercise in sustained tension, as is “The Witch Herbalist Of The Remote Town,” a jittery carnival burst of dirty sensual energy. “Shape Shifting,” “Things Fall Apart,” and “Farewell to the Species” are the kind of spastic tunes you’d expect when you hear a label like free jazz/improv/metal: wild, but expected to be.
It would have been far better to end The Way of all Animal Powers with “A Fortress Against Shadows,” the penultimate track that slogs along with odd spiritual power, like a hungpver klesmer band tuning up at dawn. The final track, “Every Seagull Knows,” tries too hard to be weird metal, and instead sounds like a Dr. Demento outtake. Zu certainly have the chops, and the soul to dig deep when they feel the mojo, but too often they shoot themselves in the foot by trying to be too cute. (In general, only sci-fi fans have cornier humor than jazzmen.)