zaum pic

Free improvisation group, featuring Steve Harris, Cathy Stevens, Geoff Hearns, Karen Wimhurst, Adrian Newton, ‘J’m Black and Udo Dzierzanowski.

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Recordings available from here:


“Zaum are a magic band. Literally. They do that magic thing called free improvisation in which nothing is prepared or composed; they make the music up as they go along. I’m the first to admit that some free improv is like a bunch of baboons on speed let loose in an instrument shop but these guys sound like the most movingly original thing you’ve seen in a month of Sundays.

After their first two improvisations at their fringe gig on Thursday we knew we were in for an interesting evening. And then something miraculous happened – their spontaneous witches’ brew became suffused with the colours of emotion. The spell had been cast.

Particular moments exemplified this. One was when an improvisation seemed about to end, only for it to be taken on by electric violinist Cathy Stevens playing a spine-tinglingly beautiful but sad melody interwoven with samples of someone speaking softly conjured from the extensive sound palette of electronics wizz Adrian Newton. Another was a wild duologue-cum-joust between saxophonist Geoff Hearn and clarinettist Kate Wimhurst that swung between the consonant and the dissonant and back. Zaum were like storytellers, like actors in a play that touched drama, comedy and tragedy.

They reminded me just a bit of the free improvisations of the great American jazz pioneers Oregon, but their canvas was broader. As I said, magic.”
Brighton Argus May 8th 2009

“… the most exciting group operating in Europe today.”
The Penguin Guide to Jazz

“For all the absence of easy hooks of any kind, this is very superior, non-idiomatic, contemporary music that almost never treads water and promises a surprise around every corner.”

Some of the music is brooding and darkly minimalist…. Some is squawky and impulsive, some vivid and conversational. This is virtuosic and varied improvisation.

Drummer/composer Steve Harris surfaced in the 1980s with the highly original UK jazz and free-funk band Pinski Zoo, but his ventures with Zaum are much more abstract – Harris himself has said of this album: “The last thing I wanted it to sound like was the perceived notion of jazz, or anything else for that matter.” Perceived notions certainly only appear here in fleeting glimpses, and almost always on the way to becoming something else – the jazziest element comes from Geoff Hearn’s Coltrane-to-Garbarek sax, which sometimes makes a late entry into abstract collective passages and wrenches both them and Harris’s inspired ensemble-rooted drumming into new directions. Pattering brushwork scurries on under long electric viola sounds and doodling clarinet lines; squeezed sounds like reversed tapes, squeezebox effects like abstract folk music, or gothic vocal laments drift over edgy electric guitars or deep, wind-in-chimneys keyboard notes. But for all the absence of easy hooks of any kind, this is very superior non-idiomatic contemporary music that almost never treads water and promises a surprise around every corner.
John Fordham – The Guardian

Zaum’s work is the most profound step forward in the language of improvisation since the awkward twin birth of ‘free jazz’ and ‘free music’, consciously an attempt to devise a new, “guttural” musical language that reflects contemporary cultural realities and psychologies without having to use the (arguably) outdated jazz idiom to do so newcomers to Zaum will be conscious of a darkly evolving sound, music as mass and presence rather than as line and which seems to balance an orchestral richness of texture with the visceral immediacy of a rock concert.

Zaum’s music proposes and questions. It asks how we make music together and to a degree why we make music together. Zaum performances have elements of ritual and transcendence, but also an earthy physicality. I’ve never played anyone, jazz fan or not, a piece by Zaum without a positive reaction. It will make you think differently about all other music.

It’s quite simply the best British improvised record in more than a decade…
Brain Morton – The Wire

Zaum have been making a name as one of the most original and exciting free-music projects in the world. On the strength of their fourth album, it’s a richly deserved reputation.

Sound track music for our inner journeys or movies projected on our eye lids… evoking ghosts, dreams and other sonic spirits.
Downtown Music Gallery – New York

“…some of the playing is the best I’ve heard in British improvised music… amazing!”
Leo Feigin

“magisterially evolving grooves, with dovetailed instrumental entries and staggered cadence points…it’s a liberated and vibrant sound, and representative of ZAUM at its best”

Philip Clark – The Wire

“Total disregard for musical genre and an almost total open-mindedness for musical possibilities. The music is improvised, creative, with a sweet and accessible touch, yet fully exploratory of space, moods and sounds. The major strength of this band is its unique sound and its capacity to improvise fully coherent musical pieces that sound preconceived, structured. The music can change from almost classical moments over King Crimson, jazz and avant-garde – a highly unusual cocktail, but one that is wonderfully intense and cohesive and adds to the overall magnificence of the recording. It is an extraordinary collective achievement. A wonderful album to remember Steve Harris.”

Free Jazz – 5/5