Zeena Parkins, No Way Back (Atavistic)

Posted December 31st, 1998 by admin

Zeena Parkins
No Way Back
By: Eric G.

The eight pieces comprised on this album consist only of electric harp, sampler, and tapes all played by Zeena Parkins, who is a staple in New York City’s downtown art-scene of avant-garde jazz/noise/rock. She has over half a dozen solo albums and was a founding member of No Safety, a dynamic quintet that blurred the lines of dozens of genres. She along with the late cellist Tom Cora invented her instrument of choice, the electric harp, a severely distorted, high-pressure instrument.

The electric harp sounds sort of like a distorted bass played with an e-bow. The notes constantly sustain, and, given that there are so many strings on a harp, it can create quite a barrage of sound as evidenced on the textured opener “Vita Futuristica.” Parkins layers each track with varying levels of feedback and distortion. She bends and splays the notes, which create a metallic dissonance that actually ebbs and flows like an orchestral piece.

Her sample tapes and loops are used sparingly and create the illusion when necessary of a full ensemble. Parkins rarely gets showy, but she does hint at the level of her prowess on “Bowed Body Bonewhite.” The album ends on a chaotic note with “i-GO”, a clashing, clanging piece in which Parkins seems to deconstruct the beauty of her instrument by forcing ugly, discordant sounds out of it. This album is not as difficult to digest as you might think. Parkins has a way of presenting her improvisational skills so that everything seems to be a part of her master plan.

Tags: review