Beyond the Dark Zones: going into far reaches where dark jazz, ambient, drone, electroacoustics and musique concrète merge

Cristiano Bocci, Beyond the Dark Zones, Italy, Unexplained Sounds Group, USG079 CD (2022)

Based in Tuscany, Cristiano Bocci set out on his path towards music at an early age, picking up guitar at age six years and then bass guitar at 14 years, and then later adding other instruments (including an electric viola da gamba), electronics, synthesisers and drum programming to his repertoire while at the same time pursuing a parallel career in mathematics. (He is currently professor of geometry at the University of Siena.) His album “Beyond the Dark Zones” is his second for Raffaele Pezzella’s Unexplained Sounds Group label, and as the title says, the recording is indeed a journey deep in – and even penetrating through – the far reaches where dark jazz, dark ambient, drone, electroacoustics and musique concrète meet and merge. The soundscapes here can be massive and forbidding, with sharp tones, discomfiting melody loops and rather bleak atmospheres suggesting we are in an alienated and alienating dark urban world. The opening track “Acid Neighbours” alone, with its huge drones, gritty bits of noise and a tremendous wall of sound in parts, is enough to dissuade all but the most fearless (maybe foolish?) tourists to venture into this particular sonic universe.

From then on, with tracks like “City Blur Walking”, we follow what could be an unsettling soundtrack to a particularly bleak and disheartening film noir work where there’s little hope for conditions in the more squalid and crime-ridden parts of an unnamed post-industrial metropolis to improve as long as there are corrupt politicians, city bureaucrats and police in league with long-entrenched criminal elements. “City Blur …” itself is quite a complex track, highlighted by the use of a mournful trumpet solo (courtesy of Emiliano Nencioni) as our travel guide through dark desolate streets leading to scenes of martial activity in the drumming and synthesiser loops. We can imagine being tracked by unseen surveillance technologies as we follow the trumpet melody deeper into the technopolis through neighbourhoods of noise and jagged synth rhythm loops. The middle of the album is especially sombre with tracks like “The Night”, featuring vocals from Gianluca Becuzzi, and the slow electro-jazz fusion of “White as Moon, Black as Night, Red as Blood”.

“Evil Pain” combines a tinny drum loop pattern with an amorphous series of trombone and saxophone improvisations in a work of deeply unsettling dark ambient jazz. This leads into “The Dark Zone”, an even more uncertain and worrying track where the solo trumpet guide and the tourists following fade into the black backgrounds, unsure perhaps where to go next. The album closes with “Respiro”, initially a fairly straightforward jazz outing dominated by piano and double bass but moving increasingly into that dark shadow world we just came out of.

A very evocative and immersive album of late-night wandering through lonely, depressed neighbourhoods and alleyways where the homeless and the drug addicts take shelter away from crime gangs patrolling their territories, “Beyond the Dark Zones” brings with it its own noirish dramas. The music itself comes with its own paradoxes: it draws on various experimental genres for inspiration and style, but in some ways it plays like a straight jazz work, content to stay within the boundaries it sets for itself.