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Zzebra - Panic CD (album) cover

PANIC

Zzebra

Jazz Rock/Fusion


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Sean Trane
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk
3 stars Second album from Zzebra being now a septet, having hired a full-time vocalist Alan Marshall, despite having four instrumentals on the present album. Musically the group sounds more or less the same than on the debut album, as Marshall doesn't sound that different to Yeadon. As Yeadon had done (pun not intended, but left in the text), guitarist Terry Smith will leave in the course of the album's recording. This recording occurred in summer 75 and the album received a all black artwork with the silver group lodo and red album title, and most tracks seem to melt into one another, or the transition is particularly smooth.

Right from the brassy opening title track, right through the gentle but slowly crescendoing Lost That Loving Feeling (a Spector cover, transformed into an instrumental), the album seems tamer than its predecessor, but the wild upbeat Karela (with its African scats) changes things a little, but the Liamo goes back to the slower tempos, while the song title sounds like chants, while the musicians show perfect capacities in listening to what the others are doing. The only Eyre-penned track Death By Drowning is a gloomy track where his electric piano takes the front row, but the peak of the album is coming in the form of Tree, which starts out smoothly enough, but going through a series of change and even peaking once or twice, before the vocals take over. Light on Me sounds a bit as if Chris Farlowe and joined the group. The second blast in this album is the outstanding closing La-Si-Si, a red hot fusion track where the group now decides tu let it rip and the musician can let loose their respective virtuosity.

In some ways, Panic is a better album than the debut, but the surprise is gone. Overall the number of instrumentals obviously leaves more space for the musicians to express themselves and interplay between each other. If you're looking for hysteric singer and guitar histrionics, you'd better move away, Zzebra is not such an animal, but if you're looking for tight funky brass rock and plenty of arrangements, please step up to the plate... but you'd better start with the debut.

Report this review (#195623)
Posted Sunday, December 28, 2008 | Review Permalink
Aussie-Byrd-Brother
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
4 stars ZZebra play a varied blend of progressive rock, jazz, African rhythms and fusion, performed by an outstanding line-up of musicians. The intensity and passion with which the band plays is inspiring, and while I may not totally love every bit of it, generally the music is extremely high quality, so I hope this review might encourage some others to look into tracking a copy down. I find this album far superior to the debut album, which has a much higher profile and seems to be considered the better of the two.

I was lucky enough to come across this album in a dusty and dirty crate at a garage sale, in amongst a whole lot of dross records! The cover was not in the best condition, but the record itself played pretty well. Strange enough, my copy of this album comes with the illustration of the animals that was from a later LP cover. Not sure what the story is there!

The album has an equal amount of instrumental and vocal tracks, so there's a good chance many listeners would find something to interest them. There's Santana-like rockers, long jazz workouts and funk/soul jams. Some more forgiving mid-period Soft Machine fans would probably find much to enjoy here. There's also a somewhat murky, dirty mix in the production that gives the album that bit of extra grit.

Listen to that furious drumming, dirty sax, pumping bass and energized electric piano playing on the lead title track! It's got a really relentless kick to it. Nice shimmering synths in the middle, good soulful vocals, too. Great way to set the tone of the album!

Next up is a wonderful and highly inventive instrumental interpretation of `You've Lost That Loving Feeling', quite unrecognizable in some parts! Wonderful sax playing that doesn't sound schmaltzy at all, and some beautiful lead guitar work that alternates between fuzzy electric stabs and quick, tasteful melodic runs. Then there's the jammy ending where the track falls away into spectral synths, commanding bass, jazzy drumming, and glistening electric piano! Outstanding!

A hard edged noisy and furious jazz-funk blowout, the instrumental `Karrola' reminds me a little of Soft Machine with the murky production, wild electric piano and fluid bass. The very brief Afro-beat moments don't intrude at all! Another killer track.

`Liamo' slows the pace down for a more atmospheric jazz-funk piece. Terrific sax playing on this one, with the bass mixed up nice and prominent. There's almost chanted vocals, but I can't quite make out what they're saying! This track is a real exercise in restraint, and all of the musicians compliment eachother perfectly.

Side two opens with a short unsettling instrumental called `Death By Drowning'. Dream-like electric piano, harsh electronic effects, dingy bass, with a lonely sax gently wailing away. Strangely hypnotic, it then segues into `Tree', a superb funky track that has great sax playing, charming vocals and sleek synths. But the real treat is an absolute knockout keyboard solo in the middle! Pretty sure it's a minimoog, it goes absolutely ballistic, with the rapid-fire drumming and pumping bass tearing the track completely apart! The mixing seems to pump these three right up!

`Put A Light On Me', a playful Santana band styled rocking funk stomper, has commanding and forceful vocals with some very groovy bass playing. Tight and concise, there's not much room on this one for extended flashy solos, and it's probably the most vocal-prominent track on the album, with a very catchy chorus.

The album ends with a rapid-fire `Return To Forever' kicking instrumental blow-out `La Si Si-La So So', roaring sax, driving electric piano, and a killer snarly electric guitar solo that absolutely loses the plot! Every band members gives each other space to shine on this one, and it ends the album on a very upbeat and exciting manner, really takes it out with a bang.

The album truly belongs to keyboard player Tommy Eyre, who's keyboard sound is a very dominant factor on this recording. He's all over the place, with a number of long noisy solos, tasteful playing and endless variety throughout the entire album.

Special mention must go to young self-taught 17 year old guitarist Steve Byrd, who is exceptional throughout his few standout moments. Apparently Byrd was brought into the band well after recording of this album had begun, so it's a shame he's not used more often. Especially listen to his lovely acoustic solo on the second track!

Many may consider the wide variety of styles and ideas as being unfocused and not knowing what direction to head in, and the vocals are certainly a little dated. I'm sure some listeners will be turned off by them, I found them usually very honest. But overall this is a very thrilling and eclectic album full of outstanding musicianship and colourful players. `Panic' was a real favourite of mine a few years back, I played it all the time! Now I'm happy to spread the word to other listeners, so please don't hesitate to snap it up if you're lucky enough to come across a copy!

Report this review (#808142)
Posted Tuesday, August 21, 2012 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
COLLABORATOR
PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
3 stars ZZEBRA was one of many fusion bands that emerged in the 70s however this band was not only a blend of the usual jazz and rock aspects but also incorporated many other styles, most notably Nigerian folk, Latin flavors, blues rock and funk. Despite the team of seven musicians playing a steady circuit scene with the likes of Return To Forever and Soft Machine after the self-titled debut in 1974, the album sold poorly but failed to dampen the spirits of this hard working band that crafted catchy tunes fortified with amazing progressive jazz-rock workouts. ZZEBRA headed back to Escape Studios in Kent, England to record a followup which would emerge with the title PANIC.

The band's indefatigable work ethic turned out to be too much for guitarist Terry Smith and in the middle of recording departed and was replaced by the 17-year old Steve Byrd. Likewise vocalist Alan Marshall replacing former vocalist Gus Yeadon who also played piano and guitar. Due to the lack of success of the debut, PANIC takes a noticeably more commercial approach with less adventurous and calmer compositions than its predecessor. While the title track begins the album with the expected jazz-rock with funk and African rhythms, starting with the cover song of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" the album takes a turn towards the mellower sounds that evoke a more funkier version of Weather Report, a stark contrast to the Santana driven rhythms of the debut. As luck would have it the band also recorded a few tracks with Jeff Beck.

While the keyboard workouts, guitar solos and driving funk bass are present especially on "Panic," "Karrola," "Tree" and "Put A Light On Me" the general atmosphere is more subdued and dreamy with lengthy passages devoted to intricate melodic developments that result in an airy fairy sort of jazzed up rock. Add the change of vocalist duties and PANIC often sounds like a completely different band than what appeared on the self-titled ZZEBRA debut. Likewise the diversity of the debut had disappeared as the band was trying to grasp a definitive sound of its own but i don't think they quite succeeded as the band simply traded one set of influences for another which leaves me preferring the incredible technical workouts of the debut over the more pop influenced funk rock styles of PANIC.

Overall PANIC is not a bad album at all but fails to really standout amongst the plethora of fusion albums that were emerging around the same time. Despite the ambitious live circuit the band failed to fully coalesce into something that truly stood out in the crowded halls of fusion bands of the era and like most prog bands of the day who assumed the technical infused styles that dominated the early 70s would last forever, ZZEBRA was yet another band that was swept away by the turning of the tides with the punk, new wave and glam rock scenes taking over the music scene. Despite the less engaging tracks on PANIC, much of the material here is quite beautifully designed and there are no bad tracks per se as all the instrumentalists have honed their chops and deliver stellar workouts, it's just that the tracks aren't quite as interesting as what appeared on the debut. The spontaneous passion had been replaced by a more calculated attempt to fit in.

Despite remaining a 70s obscurity, the interest in such artifacts from the past has been rediscovered and bands such as ZZEBRA are finding new life with their old recordings. Although the band folded after this release, there was plenty of material recorded intended for a third album but wouldn't see the light of day until the second coming of the prog revolution. The archival releases "Take It Or Leave It" (1999) and "Lost World" (2001) would see those tracks finding a release after years in the vault and the first two ZZEBRA albums including "Panic" would find a new remastered release as a two-fer in 2010 which is the best way to acquire the early albums because of the excellent remastering job as well as a number of bonus live tracks and alternative mixes.

3.5 rounded down

Report this review (#2271818)
Posted Sunday, October 20, 2019 | Review Permalink
4 stars ZZEBRA were a seven-piece British Jazz-Rock/Fusion band, partly consisting of ex-members of IF and OSIBISA, so you can expect to hear some funky African vibes in the four albums they recorded together. Zzebra released two back-to-back albums in the mid-1970's:- "Zzebra" (1974) and "Panic" (1975), and they also recorded a third and fourth album around the same period, but those two albums, "Take It Or Leave It" and "Lost World", ended up being left behind and almost lost to the world. In fact, those two long-lost albums wouldn't see the light of day until a quarter of a century later when they were released on an independent label in 1999 and 2001 respectively.

Get ready to strut your funky stuff and go wild in the jungle with the title track of Zzebra's second album: "Panic". These funky Jazz Zzebra's are really funking it up (not something you'd want to say out loud for obvious reasons) and firing on all cylinders. "Panic" certainly has a frenetic urgency to it - with it's pounding rhythm and storming horn section - even if it's not an all-out panic attack. This is heavy Jazz-Rock ramped up to 99 and then some! This stunning septet of musicians have really nailed it when it comes to getting down into the groove and pumping up the volume. WARNING! Don't even attempt to dance to this manic music or there'd be panic at the disco and you'd be absolutely knackered, quite honestly. There's no way anyone could keep up with these guys on the dance floor, not even Mr Saturday Night Fever himself, John Travolta. Zzebra have really earned their stripes with this very impressive opening. Panic over now, because we're in very familiar territory for our second song, as it's none other than "You've Lost That Loving Feeling", the old Righteous Brothers smash hit which received an after- burner boost from Tom Cruise in the blockbuster movie, Top Gun. This instrumental version by Zzebra is pretty much in cruise-control, with its mellow laid-back groove, so you may be inspired to relax and just chillout for six minutes whilst listening to this cool and sophisticated Jazz. Listen out for the sax solo, which is simply sensational. There's no clue as to what the third piece of music "Karrola" actually means, as it's an instrumental. One thing's for sure though, "Karrola" sounds like a wild beast (or maybe a wildebeest) on the rampage. It's a resounding percussive artillery barrage of storming Jazz-Rock which kicks like a mule (or indeed, kicks like a Zzebra!). Moving on now..... Is it a lamb? Is it a llama? No, it's a "Liamo", whatever that is!? "Liamo" sounds like a pretty tame animal, because the music is somewhat subdued compared to the previous sonorous stampede, so it's not likely to unleash any wild animalistic urges this time around. It's not so much a funky fusion, but more of a laid-back ethno-spiritual chant, where the only "lyrics" to be heard are "Liamo" repeated ad infinitum until the fade-out. It might not get the jungle juices flowing in the same way as "Panic" or "Karrola", but the song still has a powerful bite to it.

Look out! There's a psycho about! The grimly-titled "Death by Drowning" is the weirdest and creepiest piece of music on the album and a complete contrast to any of the four pieces of music on Side One. "Death by Drowning" has a very eerie and sinister air to it in the opening, sounding like the kind of atmospheric music you might hear in a psychological thriller just before the killer leaps out of the shadows. The Basic Instinct/Fatal Attraction-style music has a pleasant change of pace midway through though with a soothing alto sax solo, which somewhat lightens the dark sense of foreboding, so it should be safe to come out from behind the sofa now. The sixth piece of music "Tree" is also pretty subdued, invoking memories of some of the finest Canterbury Scene music. Wait a minute though..... What's this!?? Out of nowhere comes a thrilling synthesiser solo - ala Rick Wakeman - where caution is thrown to the wind in a magnificent display of keyboard wizardry. After that wild and unexpected outburst, the music returns to a mellower mood for the conclusion, in what turns out to be a three- piece suite - and all in the space of six incredible minutes too. The solitary "Tree" turns out to be an acorn that's grown into a mighty oak. In fact, the album as a whole is a veritable forest of great music to feast your ears on. Get funky! The seventh song "Put a Light On Me" features the funkiest groove on the whole album. This is a song you can really get down and shake your booty to, if you're feeling particularly energetic, or if not, you can tap your feet along to it without leaving the comfort of your armchair. This immensely catchy tune is so infectious, you may need to be inoculated against it. "Put a Light On Me" will light a fire in your Soul! It's time to unleash the wild Zzebras in the Zzoo now with the eighth and final piece of music, "La Si Si-La So So", a kick-ass improvisational free-for-all of raw, unrestrained Jazz-Rock energy and power!

Are you in the mood for some funky Afro-Jazz-Prog? Let's hope so, because that's exactly what you get with Zzebra's sophomore album. Zzebra play their own supercharged version of high-energy Jazz-Rock, instilled with an extra dose of Zzeal and Zzest. There's something here to suit almost everyone's tastes:- Whether you want a rumble in the jungle with some storming Jazz-Rock, or whether you want to swing though the trees like Tarzan with some funky gibbon grooves, or maybe even get into a mellower mood with some cool and sultry smooth Jazz. As you'll no doubt discover, Zzebra are a diverse band of many stripes and colours. It's not all black and white with the music of Zzebra. In the endless menagerie of prog, it turns out two Zzees are better than one in the musical Zzoo.

Report this review (#2340509)
Posted Friday, March 6, 2020 | Review Permalink

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