On Zenna, Wandering Monster is a band firmly in command of their musical vocabulary and ready to engage and enrapture the listener wherever that vocabulary takes them.

Ubuntu – UBU0135

Sam Quintana (double bass); Ben Powling (tenor saxophone); Calvin Travers (guitar); Richard Harrold (piano); Tom Higham (drums & percussion)

Zenna is Wandering Monster’s second full-length album and third release on the Ubuntu label. Bassist and band leader Sam Quintana explains their approach to this album: “The music on this album is the best the band has ever sounded and is certainly the most inspiring and accomplished project I personally have been a part of.

With the release of our two singles Metropolis/Division in 2020 we hit upon a really exciting creative process which produced some amazing results. I was desperate to build on this momentum and work towards a second full length album, but the Covid-19 lockdowns interrupted this creative flow.

We were unable to get together to play, but I managed to keep on writing with the band in mind. It was never my intention to write a ‘lockdown album’, but ultimately the music on this record is a product of the host of emotions I felt during that time. I wanted to challenge myself and the band with this new material, so some of the music sees us venture into previously unchartered sonic territory.

As well as what you may expect from Wandering Monster, there is free improvisation, minimalism, arco bass playing and an interpretation of an Americana pop ballad. I’m glad we’re now through a challenging period and I am incredibly excited to begin a new chapter for the band with this release!”

All music is the sum of its influences and inspirations. Zenna is a showcase for each musician’s voice, but each voice serves the songs no matter how far they stretch their voices.

In Wandering Monsters’ jazz, their influences shift and ripple from one another so swiftly that as soon as the listener thinks they hear a specific influence, and before they can name it, it’s replaced by another.

Bassist Sam Quintana wrote all the songs, save for the album’s two cover versions. The album opener, A Beautiful Blur, starts as a quiet and lovely piano intro.

It gives way to the bass answering the piano’s opening statement before they enter into a mutually supportive conversation, every instrument joining in and slowly waking and adding their voice in subtle and atmospheric ways.

This song starts as beautifully spacey music, with notes coalescing like water drops coming together from the rain. This is a lovely and introspective opening to the album, simultaneously using light and substantial notes until the end, where the band slides into full cry mode.

What We Talked About takes a similar approach and sends it farther into space in a daring, free jazz jam from which Ben Powling’s saxophone leads a melodic journey back to Earth.

Push It All Away takes a playful melody with piano, saxophone, and drums, all appearing to drive the song at different times—Quinatana’s bass outlines the harmony’s edges with precision. Calvin Travers’s guitar adds a soft yet insistent edge to the music.

Ultimately, each musician in the band uses their compatriots as a launch point, and you can hear the playfulness and careful listening in their playing.

Zenna Is another song that builds from the ground up. It swings as a straight-ahead jazz number and slows and weaves as its separate instruments search for the point where they want to unite and then move into their respective spaces in another free jazz romp. The album’s titular song may be the best example of the sonic breadth that Wandering Monster traverses.

Jaco Pastorius’ Okonkole Y Trompa begins with a jump and thrum as drums and piano go go go. Bow-played bass adds drama and gravitas to the song’s bouncy and mathematical rhythm. Powling’s saxophone provides a melodic ceiling over the arching bass melody.

Drums expand as the song develops, giving its rhythm still more depth. As the music intensifies, Harrold’s minimalist piano becomes more evident, adding extra, understated colors.

This version captures the spirit and the flavor of the original. One wonders if using bass as the main melodic instrument here is a way of paying tribute to the song’s author.

The band encapsulates the melancholy mood and melody of Randy Newman’s Cowboy. The whole band is restrained, and saxophone and piano take turns exploring its melancholy melody as bass and drums punctuate the song at just the right moment to anchor its sentiment.

The saxophone and guitar pair for an emotional closing statement matching the vocal emphasis Newman used in his original recording.

On Zenna, Timbres evolve from quiet to loud with each sonic step in between. They can create musical drama in an almost chamber music-like space. The solos on the album always stay within the structure of each song and are always in service of the music, even at their most experimental.

Each musician in the band seems to intuit each other’s direction despite the many twists and turns in their deft musical approach. On Zenna, Wandering Monster is a band firmly in command of their musical vocabulary and ready to engage and enrapture the listener wherever that vocabulary takes them.