Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wide awake for Zs

By Meredith Deliso

Sam Hillmer seriously represents Brooklyn.

As the saxophonist in the Bushwick-based band Zs, the director of a youth arts program in the neighborhood, a producer of the upcoming performance arts festival this fall called “You Are Here,” and a resident of Bushwick, he never needs to leave the borough.

It’s no wonder then that on June 24, when Zs celebrate the release of their latest effort, “Music Of The Modern White,” they do so in Brooklyn, at Williamsburg’s Secret Project Robot.

Since forming in 2000, the group has taken on several distinctions – as a trio, sextet and quartet – before solidifying as a trio, with Hillmer on tenor sax, Ben Greenberg on electric guitar, and Ian Antonio on drums.

In their current incarnation, with an almost entirely new line up from the original start nearly 10 years ago, the band decided to do something new.

“I said, let’s do something just totally f---ed up,” says Hillmer. “We were in this situation where there wasn’t a lot of the original thrust of what the project was. It was inherently a new thing.”

The result is “Music of the Modern White,” a 12” inch out on The Social Registry. The album showcases the group’s avant-garde sound, with free jazz, noise and funk all intertwined, but is something that is more atmospheric and spacious, with its droning guitar riffs, squealing sax and polyrhythmic trills of the drums.

“It’s just about getting into a vibe,” says Hillmer. “All of our other records are way more about documenting this visceral and intense performance. ‘Music of the Modern White’ is more disembodied – it’s not clear what’s doing what.”

The bad thing about “Music of the Modern White” is that, as a studio album, it can’t really be replicated live. But listeners can get a hint of the band’s current sound on June 24 as they play songs that will be on their next full-length album that have “digested” more of their new experiments, says Hillmer, so that it won’t just be some strange new thing that they’re trying out but a fleshed-out vision.

For their album release party, Zs have invited a few friends to play Secret Project Robot as well. Among those is the band Nine 11 Thesaurus, comprised of students Hillmer works with as director of an after-school arts program at the Beacon Center for Arts and Leadership, where he helps the budding musicians make hip-hop records. The girls of Grade 13, a teenage hip-hop group that made their own album through the arts program Vibe Songmakers, are regulars at the center, and Hillmer invited them to play as well.

Also on the bill are pysch-trance group Effi Briest, and there will be visuals from Mighty Robot AV Squad and DJing from Electroputas’ Jaiko Suzuki.

Hillmer, for one, is excited about the combination of talent.

“If we’re just playing a show with a bunch of bands on the scene, it’s a foregone conclusion what it’s going to be like,” says the musician. “This is way more exciting.”

Initially Zs were looking to do the show at a venue like Webster Hall, but decided to go with Secret Project Robot for the release party.

“We went to a DIY venue – it’s a venue we like, with people we know,” says Hillman. “It’s fun to play a place like Webster Hall or Music Hall of Williamsburg, but really my heart is in DIY stuff.”

Sounds like Brooklyn to me.

Zs play Secret Project Robot (210 Kent Ave.) on June 24 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $8, or free with the purchase of “Music Of The Modern White” at the door.


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