By MARK CORROTO
Don't let anyone tell you that size doesn't matter. It does. For a large jazz ensemble, size often dictates sound: its suppleness or lack of. This is not a problem for the malleable Zanussi 13. This live recording from a 2001 performance in Oslo displays an unpretentious big band that deals with size by exploiting its forcefulness, but also by not getting caught up in the trappings of size.
Norwegian bassist Zanussi was first noted as a member of the electronic experiment Wibutee in the 1990s. He later joining MZN3, Trespass Trio (with Martin Kuchen and Raymond Strid), Crimetime Orchestra, and Frode Gjerstad's Circulasione Totale Orchestra. His primary outlet is the long-standing quintet, Zanussi 5, with whom he released Ghost Dance (Moserobie, 2010). He builds his thirteen from this working quintet of three saxophonists, bass and drums, adding a second drummer, a trombonist, five saxophonists (including Jonas Kullhammar), and electric guitarist Stian Westerhus.
Things rarely get crowded after the opener "Balance/Sinawi," a noisy stop/start muscular introduction to the band. Zanussi and the drummers lay down a pulse that coaxes soloists to shed the bonds of gravity but then pause for some spacey meditation. Zanussi's compositions rarely opt for the obvious. His music is at times a hard-bodied equivalent to Ken Vandermark's large ensemble pieces, like "Zoanthropy 2," that also deal with ruminating sounds of minimalism. "Ghibli" is a furtive piece, opening with an extended circular-breathing saxophone solo that expands with soft touches of the entire ensemble. It is really quite remarkable how quiet a big band can be.
Elsewhere the band uses its size to great effect. The skronky guitar that opens "Broken Sinawi" could be a huge cargo ship that passes by unseen in a fog bank. Its largeness is both heard and felt, if not seen. The band then builds upon the freighter's size. While a drummer works in each stereo channel, the saxophonists, screeching, set about to tear the walls down. The energy system Zanussi works with here is vast.