Zoukeys, “Senzorga” (Speak Jolly)

zoukeysYou’d expect a New Orleans fusion band to be eclectic, and Zoukeys are just a little more so. The five songs on their debut EP include a taste of progressive rock, a touch of Broadway and Bernstein, some New Orleans piano and an original song that’s more or less pop. Just your typical New Orleans musical gumbo, right?

Not quite. The catch is that Zoukeys has only two members—pianist Josh Paxton and singer/bouzouki player Beth Patterson—and it works so well because their backgrounds are so different. Paxton is steeped in local piano traditions, while Patterson’s worked her own Celtic-prog fusion. Put that together and you get something unique: Paxton turns to melodica and Patterson takes the rhythm on “Hoedown,” the Aaron Copland piece as reinvented by Emerson, Lake & Palmer; and this unplugged version has all the exuberance of ELP’s synth-heavy take. Paxton swings like mad on the Chick Corea tune “Armando’s Rhumba” and adds some stately piano to “Heights,” a richly melodic Patterson tune. They save the most audacious track for last: the Police’s “Murder By Numbers” is musically fused with “My Favorite Things,” and the cold irony (and Patterson’s steely delivery) makes it work in a Tarantino kind of way.

During a recent live show (opening for the Radiators, no less) Zoukeys stretched further in both directions, doing some straight-up Dr. John and Toussaint, while reaching deeper into the prog songbook (they opened with a Crack the Sky song, probably a first at Tip’s). You don’t have to be quite as much of a music junkie as they are to relate.