Vancouver-based Ion Zoo has released one previous CD, Set Free at the Cellar
(on the NOW Orchestra label), a fine live performance that introduced the quartet, which comprises singer Carol Sawyer; Steve Bagnell on reeds, from baritone saxophone to clarinet, as well as percussion; Lisa Miller on piano; and Clyde Reed on bass. This second CD, Venus Looks Good, a studio recording, continues the story with an extraordinary eighteen pieces, all recorded in a single afternoon, and each revealing the group’s capacity for sudden turns of musical thought, each musician picking up threads from one another and following them to new and unsuspected associations and collocations of sound—like the gritty vocal multiphonics and damped piano strings of Crocodile’s Complaint. The wittily titled Lost Lieder is a remarkable collision of inheritances, including Sawyer's improvised lieder (think Schoenberg or Berg) and Bagnell’s tenor saxophone solo, warmly chromatic in the Tristano school of abstract jazz improvisation, a song meandering in the dissonant fields elaborated by Miller. The group has a genuine gift for the improvised miniature, whether short, song-like works that often hinge around Sawyer's verbal talents, like Animals in the Attic, or the wordless Bug Planet, a rapid-fire explosion of collective improvisation highlighting Reed’s bass, and lasting less than a minute.