A to Z Album and Gig Reviews
This multi-talented female three-piece hails from points way down south (deepest Sussex and Buckinghamshire), yet their infrequent sojourns up north have won them many friends already. They do deserve to be better known, however, so it's time their only CD was reviewed! Although it was actually recorded somewhat over two years ago, it's still very much representative both of their repertoire and their stage act (there's no overdubbing, and what you hear is exactly what you get live).
Zoox is a very versatile outfit indeed, the three ladies playing a large number of instruments between them: Linda Game plays fiddle and mandolin; Becky Menday soprano and alto saxes, whistles and contrabassoon (yes, honestly!); and Jo May takes care of the multifarious delights of the percussion department. Each of the trio has an impressive CV, with (variously) stints in The Kitchen Girls (Linda), Freyja and Token Women (Jo), and classical orchestras like toe RPO (Becky). Seen live, Zoox can't fail to make an impact at once with their winning combination of energy, originality, consummate musicianship and easy virtuosity, not least the facility and efficiency with which they change instruments during a tune-set, and their playing exudes a great sense of fun (tho' it's not so much fun to watch them staggering up and down stairs with so many instrument-cases!). What is most remarkable perhaps, is that while it's obvious that their musical arrangements are closely knit, and skilfully engineered to make optimum use of known resources, there's also an infectious sense of spontaneity in their playing.
On this CD they treat us to ten instrumental tracks (including two tune-sets) and one vocal number (a convincingly rootsy cover of The Waifs' When I Die). There should be more songs I say, for the ladies' singing, individually and in harmony, is excellent. Back to the tunes, the pick of these include Linda's quirky composition The Bread Machine, which provides plenty of much-kneaded (sorry!) contrast between the individual parts (playful mandolin pitting itself against deep, gruff contrabassoon with rhythm from darabuka) and Jo's tune Two Fat Ladies, which has driving sax and churning fiddle negotiating a tricky Eastern European time-signature. Dragging The Bow is a jaunty syncopated ragtime written for a clog dancer (don't ask!), while The Wind That Shakes The Barley blows in straight from the Balkans. Even well-known tunes such as the two Irish reels making up The Gravel Walks/John Nee's set emerge as something enjoyable and surprising, that galumphing contrabassoon stepping out into the glare of whistle-daylight like a bright butterfly growing out of a grub larva. Zoox have a knack for accentuating the contrasts between registers and timbres (high and low, warm and cool, sharp and cloudy); they evidently know their instruments and their capabilities very well indeed. No two tracks have an identical arrangement, each is blessed with a different instrumental complement.
This is intelligent, inventive and stimulating music-making - yet (and here's the rub), in the end I'm forced to ponder what further changes Zoox can possibly ring if they're to sustain the wow factor over a second CD and beyond.
David Kidman February 2009
David Kidman January 2007