Ion Zoo is a quartet that focuses on collective spontaneous improvisation-composition. Venus Looks Good (Open Form 091108) presents 18 of their short vignettes. The ensemble consists of Carol Sawyer on vocals, Steve Bagnell, reeds and percussion, Lisa Miller, piano, and Clyde Reed, contrabass.
The music is free with some jazz inflection and a pronounced new music feel. Each improvisation conjures a collective, overlapping four-way invention with a particular mood--abstract, whimsical, energetic, spatial, sparse, etc. They get the various miniature pieces together via some effective listening and reacting.
Carol Sawyer's vocals are well done. She has a levity and humor in her presentation that helps the advanced vocalisms go down easy. Her personal style and musicality help give a defining identity to the ensemble. Steve Bagnell makes good use of his time on reeds and adds texture when he switches off to percussion. Lisa Miller gets inside the piano or phrases some conventionally played utterances that add much to the improvs. Clyde Reed holds up the bottom well.
It's a recording you must hear a few times to get into the maelstrom of its musical ideas. In the end you have some excellent ensemble free improvs, different enough to forge a definite identity for the unit. And they NEVER bore!