Vegetarian musicVegetarian Music? This is a photo taken by Peter Zummo himself. As I am enjoying the taste of fresh vegetables this summer, I enjoy the feel of this picture: a Dada spirit if there ever was one, as I am listening to Experimenting with Household Chemicals, a most unusual recording conceived by Peter Zummo and performed by him, Mustafa Ahmed (percussion), Jon Gibson (flute, soprano and alto saxophones), Joseph Kubera (keyboards), Dennis Masuzzo (contrabass), Bill Ruyle (marimba, voice), and Arthur Russell (amplified cello, keyboard bass, voice). It was released by Phill Niblock on XI the mid-90s but it hasn’t aged a bit. In evidence, a playful attitude but – make no mistake – a very serious commitment to avoiding redundancy and finding something unusual to groove by.

Zummo came up with a unique system of improvised composition based on symmetries of the movement patterns of the slide of his trombone, which lead to certain sequences of tones and their harmonics. What I love about his approach to composing is that he is comfortable saying that the written score can be quite different from the sound of the performance. This is definitely an album to remember – even though he has had other releases since, such as the intriguing Slybersonic Tromosome with Tom Hamilton (Penumbra) and the classic Zummo with an X re-released by New World Records. The reason for the “X” is not for effect: the X is actually one of the trombone slide patterns that he uses in his composition. There is a certain consistency of the music between the various releases and musician combos, an inimitable pacing of the melodies and rhythms. Interestingly, he is inclusive of microtonality without calling himself a “microtonalist”; in other words he knows all about alternative tunings and tuning adjustments that occur at various octaves on the instruments, but he is being cool about it, not fussing over of the sophistication of his tunings. Also I love his didjeridoo playing… Who else? Also note that Peter plays keyboards proficiently and can also sing (I used his vocals on choruses of The Death of Don Juan – who knew?)

Flash back: Peter Zummo meets dancer and choreographer Stephanie Woodard as Wesleyan University and they get married in 1969; they collaborate on many projects. They come to New York. Stephanie establishes her own dance company. Peter writes for the Soho News. He meets many musicians. He tours with shows from LaMama with Bill Ruyle; he performs with the Big Apple Circus with Peter Gordon, Boris Policeband, Michael Canick and Denman Maroney. He tours Europe and Japan with the Lounge Lizards, given a chance to develop his own free style. He meets Arthur Russell…and that is the beginning of a long and productive interaction.

In the early 80s, Arthur Russell, Peter and myself, along with Mustafa Ahmed, were the Singing Tractors (named by Arthur returning from a visit to his folks in Iowa), an experimental nexus that led to innumerable projects. Every member of the Singing Tractors was totally productive – recording Arthur Russell’s underground hit In the Light of the Miracle (which wasn’t released by Point until after he died in 1992), contributing to his albums and his many, many performances including Experimental Intermedia, the Walker Arts Center and The Kitchen; Peter Zummo’s compositions for choreographer Trisha Brown: Lateral Pass. Newark and Fast Dream, and his above-mentioned, amazing album  Experimenting with Household Chemicals; Mustafa Ahmed’s own production of Let’s Go Smimming, another of Arthur’s underground dance music specials, and his collaborations with other bands as one of the most popular percussionists on the scene; and  my early 80s albums Concerto for Piano and Orchestral Memory and The Death of Don Juan – the latter has been recently reissued on Unseen Worlds – and the Concerto (and other piano music from the 1980s) is scheduled to be reissued this year on the same label. Since then, every time I needed live rhythms I worked with Mustafa Ahmed and/or Bill Ruyle, including Existence at the Performing Garage, Waking in New York, where both carried the strong and driving rhythm section, and up to the present:  Bill Ruyle and Steven Hall on drums and bass performed the rhythms of my Two-Cents Opera, recently premiered at the Theater for the New City.

Peter Zummo is very active on the scene; he performs frequently in New York, with a group including Ernie Brooks, Bill Ruyle, Mustafa Ahmed, Danny Tunick, Michael Evans and Yvette Perez. He is also core member of Arthur’s Landing, a group devoted to the music of the late Arthur Russell (Steven Hall, Joyce Bowden Kirby, Mustafa Ahmed, Bill Ruyle, Ernie Brooks and other guest performers such as Peter Gordon). Arthur’s Landing will be performing at the New Museum on coming up on September 11 at 7PM. The program will also include my SOSWTC – for solo synthesizer that was composed immediately after the 9/11 trauma,  a meditative and healing piece for departed souls… Synergies will happen…

Peter Zummo in performance (2009)

Peter Zummo in performance (2009)

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