As far as I know there is not a jacked-up hot-rodded Ford van* out there by the name of The Pneumatic Transit, but there is a bunch of fellas from Chicago who chose that odd name for their band. Actually, the name comes from the first working attempt at a subway system in 1870s New York, which ran on pneumatic power – good old Wiki!
The leader of this band, who came together sometime in 2012, is one Jeffery Zampillo, formerly of a group by the name of Exotic Animal Petting Zoo. He is joined by Umphrey’s McGee’s original drummer Mike Mirro, and as Jeffrey’s resignation statement to his former band states, “a pair of string players from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and a handful of very talented improvisers”. Jeffrey left the Zoo because he felt his true calling did not lie in playing written numbers night after night, but with improvisation.
There, that scared a few of you off, I’ll bet. Those still reading, go get them back because this record is not in the slightest bit scary. Well, OK, maybe it is a tiny bit, for the unadventurous music fan at any rate, particularly the short opening track Colloquium, a minute’s worth of free jazz sax wailing. Elsewhere we range from languid piano grooves, through ambient sequences, via searing sections of full on ur-rock noise. Often the spikiest moments are led by Jeffrey’s angry guitar moves, and using Apparition of Rosalyn as an example, where he is joined by furiously buzzing cellos and all manner of electronic jiggery-pokery, the piece soon turns into an avant-symphonic trip.
This is followed by some soothing cello-led ambience on the marvellously titled Benzedrine Cloud Burst, and it becomes apparent that while a lot of this album is improvised its structure indicates that ideas and themes, if not actual scores, are used as base points to great effect. These are all highly skilled musicians doing what comes naturally. I once got into a conversation with a keyboard player who told me that there was a reason why most musicians do not improvise, hinting that more often than not the end result is an indulgence or a grand mess, or both. I would counter that in order to make good improvisational music, you have to not only possess the chops, but the confidence in your own abilities to pull it off. Great improv is a rare thing, and while this album may not be up there with Can or Miles or McLaughlin at their freest, it is not far away.
Speaking of McLaughlin, the eerie An Atlas of Oceanic Coves takes its cues from the brilliant Yorkshireman at his most meditative, and Weather Report to create a blissful soundscape that any lover of extrapolated aural delights cannot fail to like.
Halfway into the album, and the angular interjections of Jeffrey’s guitar are the exception rather than the rule, but the headlong rush of The Meketrex Supplicant, a title that sounds like a leftover from the Mars Volta cannon, goes some way to redress the balance. An incendiary blast of jazzy Crimsoid menace, it will annoy your neighbours, and probably your partner if played at suitably earwax loosening volume. Great stuff!
The upped ante continues into the nastily hypnotic riff that introduces Enochian Dyskinesia – where do these titles come from?! Waz Fox is proving himself to be an ivory tinkler of some merit, his treated Rhodes weaving Zawinul into Chick Corea as another cosmic symphony takes shape, some nice sax getting into the mix.
Possibly the highlight of the album is the gorgeously romantic Lioness, where the stars sway through a slow waltz to the end of time, the solo sections from untreated guitar and Rhodes working just fine.
This is a well executed and well put together album in what seems to have been a labour of love for Jeffery Zampillo. In today’s overcrowded market, where the average is often lauded as the exceptional, and the majority of the potential audience is stuck in a never ending nostalgia trip, one hopes but sadly doubts it will get the attention it deserves.
[*Note for non-UK readers – the Ford Transit was for many years the rock band van of choice, schlepping groups and their instruments up and down the comparatively sparsely populated motorways of our Sceptred Isle from the late 1960s to the 1980s]
01. Colloquium (1:01)
02. Icarian Games (8:37)
03. Apparition of Rosalyn (6:49)
04. Benzedrine Cloud Burst (3:04)
05. An Atlas of Oceanic Coves (7:44)
06. Hypoxia (1:35)
07. The Meketrex Supplicant (2:29)
08. Enochian Dyskinesia (7:13)
09. Sparrow Sparrow (2:16)
10. Lioness (7:34)
11. Silent Waves of Sleeping Soothsayers (2:42)
Total time – 51:04
Jeffery Zampillo – Guitars, Mellotron, Devices
Michael Mirro – Drums
Waz Fox – Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Synth
Carl Coan – Saxophones, EWI
Michael Ferraro – Cello
Michael Shell – Drums (track 11)
Steven Radakovich – Bass (track 5)
Josh Hanchar – Bass (track 10)
Scott Certa – Bass (track 8)
Record Label: n/a
Year Of Release: 2015