The first 30 seconds of the ZMO Trio's self-titled debut EP is nothing if not striking: The delicate bass arpeggios, the roomy, naturalistic drums, and the tinkling, intricate piano all point to a modern, progressive jazz recording, but then singer/bassist/namesake Zachary Miles Ojeda's plaintive and un-jazzy voice coasts in and now you don't know what to make of opening track "Nighttime."
Pitching themselves somewhere between the Bill Evans Trio and the Alkaline Trio, the ZMO Trio's emo-jazz sounds like a terrible idea. But amazingly, "Nighttime" is largely successful. Ojeda gets sympathetic backing from pianist Shawn Vaughan and drummer Andrew Thornbough, and the way the group weaves from the rambling, cyclical verse to the succinct and jazzy chorus catches some of Joe Jackson's residual magic from "Stepping Out."
But over the course of the EP, the lyrics can't escape the kind of lovelorn high school fare that would be unspectacular in a traditional indie-rock band, and here stick out as distinctly weak. Blame it on youth (Ojeda is a junior at McNally Smith College of Music), but hooks like "Your love is more real/More than anything I have/Ever felt" lack the imagery or specificity to be evocative, and the spare musical backdrop can't provide the rush necessary to overpower such clichés.
The ZMO Trio is an interesting concept, but it also shows why genre-busting is a dangerous profession; after all, jazz is more than jazziness and emo is more than heart-on-sleeve whining. Jazz requires emotional subtlety and control, and emo demands emotional bombast and catharsis. It seems like there's little common ground there, but "Nighttime" at least provides a hint that they're not mutually exclusive.
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