Ziroq – ‘Ziroq’ A DVD-Audio review by Stuart M. Robinson

The DVD-Audio releases from Silverline continue apace, the latest being the self-titled debut album from Ziroq, available from July 2nd 2002 onwards.

Named after the North African sirocco winds, Ziroq was founded by guitarist and lead vocalist Marcus Nand and bassist Carmine Rojas. Together they have assembled a group of musicians whose portfolios include performances with David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart, not that the music here is even remotely connected to the style of any of those artists. Aside from Nand and Rojas, the remaining members of Ziroq, one of whom appears to have fallen asleep during the front cover artwork photo-shoot, are Paul Blazek (percussion), Guillermo Pascual (vocals, strings), Tal Bergman (drums, percussion) and J’anna Jacoby (violin). Guest artists include Shahla Sarehchani (vocals), Tony Philips (soundscapes), Guillermo Pascual (programming, vocals), Tovar (guitar), Charles Kentis (percussion programming, organ) and Carmen Cerro (palmas).

Ziroq’s musical style is a heady mixture of rock and flamenco with influences from India, Morocco and Latin America, it’s a fusion of polished guitar and atmospheric multi-cultural themes, all underpinned with a wide variety of foot-tapping rhythms. A number of tracks are instrumental, but those with lyrics are sung in either English or Spanish. The combination of Nand’s Spanish flamenco background, his Indian and Fijian parentage (although he has a obvious English accent) and the rock leanings of Rojas produce music that the band’s biography aptly describes as “…exciting and unpredictable, a warm sizzling breeze one minute, dangerous, compelling and edgy the next”.

In some ways, the album has similarities to Steve Stevens’ ‘Flamenco a Go-Go’, a disc also featured here at High Fidelity review. That’s not entirely surprising as Nand has performed with Stevens, but this disc is more diverse, interesting and in many ways more musically compelling.

The DVD-Audio release of ‘Ziroq’ contains a dedicated 48kHz 24-bit two-channel mix that – although much the same as the original April CD release by Triloka Records – quite clearly benefits from the increased resolution of the DVD-Audio platform. The 96kHz 24-bit multi-channel mix is far more interesting however, so I will be concentrating upon it for the remainder of this review.

The album opens with ‘Tierra del Sur’, a heavily flamenco-influenced Spanish song and possibly the weakest track on the entire disc, largely due to the standards set by the remainder of the album. ‘Que Pena’ livens things up considerably and we’re treated to the disc’s first Middle Eastern influences – there’s a catchy violin hook that acts as the perfect foil for the song’s subtle but tuneful bass-line.

Perhaps the slow start was a deliberate move on the part of Ziroq, because as the album progresses one gets the distinct impression that the band are trying to gradually build the Moroccan mood, rather than playing all their cards from the very beginning. Once again, ‘Ziroq’, the title track, builds upon the Middle Eastern theme with wailing, at times sampled vocals, rhythm guitars, castanets and violins. The style is Jesse Cook meets Ali Baba with a dash of Yanni (without the sentimental keyboards), an eclectic mixture that works incredibly well.

Closer to Me’ is the disc’s first English-language track and has a mainstream appeal, as does, to a lesser extent, ‘Contando Cacahutes’, a combination of English and Spanish vocals with a pop-orientated drum track and soulful air.

The album’s standout track, at least as far as I’m concerned, is ‘Voices’, a moody English song filled with beautiful acoustic guitar, subtle plucked violin strings, tuneful bass guitar and delicate, distant piano. Listen out too for some really high frequency bell sounds, a good test of your hearing and the HF response of your system.

Reina’ is flamenco pop on heat, largely due to the bursts of low frequency grunt throughout the track and the lightning fast rhythm guitar. ‘Prisionero’ is another mixture of stop-start complex rhythms, largely carried by bass guitar and drums, but here the flamenco guitars take on a lesser role, they’re the quieter ‘good guys’ to the bass and violin ‘upstarts’.

The semi-electric, pounding, rock-influenced ‘Patio del Moro’ instrumental is the track most reminiscent of Steve Stevens’ work, complete with a false ending and wild violin, and it’s followed by another instrumental, this time the most Jesse Cook-like track ‘Nomad’, a complex, layered, lead acoustic guitar tour de force.

Cerca de Mi’ closes the disc, possibly the best-known track due to the airplay it has received on MTV Latino, Telemundo and similar crossover music channels.

As far as the surround mix itself is concerned, for the most part it’s unusually conservative, especially in light of previous Gary Lux creations. The centre channel rarely carries lead vocals, instead they’re spread across front left and right (we could debate the technical pros and cons of this approach late into the night), but in this case the approach works well on an artistic level, it helps throw Nand’s husky vocals further back in the mix, freeing the centre channel to be used for deliberately obvious ear-catching elements, such as the lead flamenco guitar of ‘Pobre Corazon’. The surround channels are also used sparingly, the soundstage has been spread around to the sides of the room but there are no jump-out-of-your-seat or slap-you-in-the-face rear events. Although the mix doesn’t have any immediate ‘wow’ factor, it is entirely appropriate for the musical style and one has to congratulate Lux for his considered, thoughtful approach.

The recording fidelity is outstanding throughout, with the possible exception of the ending of ‘Patio de Moro’, which shows just a hint of compression and Nand’s vocals during the first track, which are a tad scratchy. Otherwise the guitars are sharp, precise and never muddled (especially important when one considers their prominent role in the music), hand-claps and similar treble percussion elements such as tom-toms are uncannily lifelike, as is the purity of the highest frequency components. Cymbal splashes have none of the unstable mush that plagues many SACD discs and those super high-frequency bells of ‘Voices’ and ‘Prisionero’ are both pure and stable. ‘Ziroq’ won’t put too much stress on your sub-woofer aside from the forceful grumbles of ‘Reina’ and ‘Nomad’, but what bass there is elsewhere on the disc forms a vital part of the music, therefore you’ll need a tuneful and tight low-end to appreciate it to its fullest.

As we have come to expect from the 5.1 Entertainment stable, this DVD-Audio disc offers a number of supplementary extras to compliment the core album. There are the usual loudspeaker set-up menus, behind-the-scenes photographs, a biography in English and Spanish and three videos presented in 448kb/s Dolby Digital, ‘Cerca de Mi’ (your typical music video – sexy girl, beach, cliff top concert, soft focus et al) and two live performances, ‘Reina’ and ‘Ziroq’. There are also two interviews with the band, again, one in English, the other Spanish. All provide a tantalising taste of what it must be like to see the band live, something that is clearly not to be missed as the two stage performances presented here are thrilling. The ‘Cerca de Mi’ video is full of video compression artefacts and the 3/2.1 Dolby Digital doesn’t downmix at all well in-player (you can hear obvious volume pumping throughout, perhaps due to the aggressive LFE content which is discarded on downmix) but via an external decoder, in my case a Lexicon MC-12, no such problems were evident.

My only other nit-pick is that as has been the case with a number of 5.1 Entertainment discs lately, my Toshiba DVD-Audio player balked at some menu selections and even locked up once, which meant I had to enter some title and track selections manually. This issue may be player-dependant, but it’s one to watch out for.

So it’s another winner from Silverline; Ziroq’s performance and musical repertoire are both first rate, the disc’s surround mix wholly befitting and best of all, the fidelity is, in the most part, exemplary.