Nonplaces, the sophomore LP from the Philip Zoubek Trio is all types of challenging. The 11-song opus sounds like an amalgam of 20th century avant-garde music, both jazz and contemporary, as if processed and collaged from the perspective of the year 2020. At times, the experience of hearing this record is akin to a live, acoustic emulation of skipping through a dense catalog of challenging music, where in the span of just a few bars you land on a new soundscape, only to continue cascading along. This, of course, speaks to the agility and the clockwork precision of the musicians involved: Philip Zoubek (piano, synths), David Helm (bass) and Dominik Mahnig (drums). These fellas are air-tight like a submarine, and they also go deep into the thick of it like one.
The best way to experience this record is to just dive in head-first! Headphones on, eyes closed, and really have to set aside a free moment to explore. The encounter with Alarms, the first track, and its peculiar take on broken clockwork like mechanics can be rather overwhelming, that is if you’re not into challenging music to start with. And that’s okay.
This should feel like a brick to the back of your head! Or like being run over by speeding truck. But, I assure you, once the initial shock recedes, you will start to understand how this world works. It’s sort of like getting to know a potent psychotropic substance, it takes minute. The second song, Mirrors, will offer some respite. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a ballad (the press text does), but it’s laidback compared to Alarms and feels like a soundscape lifted from some art-house short, or maybe a theme written to a moody scene in a play. What you choose to get out of this experience, and project into these songs, is on you. One of the perks of getting lost in this record is having a free hand to interpret its contents. While absorbing this work, you never feel manipulated in any way as a listener, which makes for quite a different relationship between creator and consumer to that in a more conventional or pop music context. My absolute favourite on the record is the dreamy oddity The Other Life. It’s a song that feels like mist, one the one hand it’s intangible, as it escapes you constantly, slips through your fingers, yet it’s full of shifting form/s, like a cloud.
If you want to be challenged. If you are open to new experiences, Nonplaces will deliver! The record is currently out courtesy of WhyPlayJazz. If you like what you hear, check the label’s catalog, they’re a goldmine for novel experiences served in the form of jazz records.