Zeb :: Stop the Earth, I Want to Get Off!
While the music of India has made a slow and steady climb into American consciousness over the last four decades, little is known of Baul culture, a group of Bengal mystics that use their songs as transmissions spreading social and spiritual philosophies. Outside of two collaborative efforts between the excellent vocalist Paban Das Baul - with British guitarist Sam Mills (Real Sugar) and UK-based DJ/producer Sam Zaman/Stage of Bengal (Tani Tani) - few Baul scribes have made their way to Western ears. And then Zeb came along and dropped the hottest track imaginable.
Known under many guises - such as The Spy From Cairo, The Pleb and, more rarely, Moreno Visini (his birthright) - Zeb has been dropping guitar and oud lines at New York's best dance parties (including, most recently, his residency at Turntables on the Hudson) for years. Yet his deeper layer of genius occurs in the studio, where he applies a globally focused intent across the board. Often citing his gypsy heritage to the manner in which he makes music, one can immediately recognize the connection. Just as the original Rom culture traveled from India through to Persia and Spain, and up the Balkans into Eastern Europe, Zeb offers incredible insight into these seemingly disparate threads, most notably on this latest release. Like a master weaver, his tapestry is a brilliant display of colors that evolve over time; as the carpet becomes worn and earthen, new textures that were not apparent appear. This is the foundation of his music.
"Bauls of New York," that aforementioned track that begins with a muddy harmonium and tabla before the analog vocals kick in, are soon met by a clean, sharp rhythm that simply destroys dance floors. All of Stop the Earth's tracks share two qualities, even though each is as varied and ambitious in scope as imaginable. Firstly, the embedded interplay between streetside ethnomusicological-quality grittiness jump against warm, luxurious bass lines that bloom inside your heart chakra. It is this play of heaven and the underworld he is master of (again, not surprising to one that cites gypsies as influence). Second, and more important to the listener, is that even though scores of instruments and languages appear, every song admits such an inherent groove that dancing is no longer an option. It's demanded.
Great artists do that, though, and with Stop the Earth Zeb has affirmed his status among this caliber of producers. Andrea Monteiro's sensuous vocals on "Para Fugir," guided by a roving bass and in-the-pocket cowbell, is a certain dance floor smash; ditto for "Afro Disco," a bass-led cruiser, and "Felakesh," Zeb's timely summation of a bit of Afrobeat with a touch of Moroccan grooves. He continues to rule the midtempo as well: the oud-driven "Monia," a trance-like hypnotized Rasta shout out on "No Matter What They Say," and a deeply dubby Brazilian cut with Carla Alexander chiming in, "Preto." Whether 95 bpm or 120, his range is as impressive as the songs themselves.
So it goes for this Italian expat serving time in the NYC underground. To understand the album's title is to get a glimpse at the human behind his dexterous hands. Sometimes you see him on stage furiously tearing guitar strings over Nickodemus' choice selections and Nappy G's machine gun congas; at others he's slack back in the mix with a beer in hand and large, loving smile. His display of fury and softness in his persona translates to some of life's greatest paradoxes: the ability to pull from light and darkness and, most importantly, understand that all of existence is a play of opposing forces that dance in harmony. Stop the Earth, but don't let him off quite yet. His work has just started.