Ivan Zagni

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This electric guitarist did some fine work in obscure British progressive rock bands of the '60s, became involved in the European free improvisation scene in the following decade, and then returned to…
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This electric guitarist did some fine work in obscure British progressive rock bands of the '60s, became involved in the European free improvisation scene in the following decade, and then returned to the music scene of his native New Zealand in the '80s. The Continentals, emerging from the hinterlands of Norwich in the early '60s, were the first group of any notoriety to include Zagni in their lineup. The fine vocalist Mike Patto was also in this band, whose 1966 Decca contract prompted a name change. From then on the combo was the News, well in advance of Huey Lewis. The newly named group lasted for two singles and half as many years. The collaboration between Zagni and Patto was a far cry from Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in terms of success, but there was a brief glimmer of hope when the duo's tune "A Woman That's Waiting" found its way on to the B-side of a single by Timebox that hit the charts at number 38. Hopefully the song was not about "A Woman That's Waiting" for a hit record, since that was the singles' last chart position as well. "This Is the Moment" was used on the British television series Adam Adamant, establishing a psychic connection with the most obnoxious British new wave that is best ignored. Next up for Zagni was Jody Grind, once again predicting a band name that would crop up in the future, this time in connection with an '80s and '90s group out of Athens, Georgia. Both groups and any other named Jody Grind are paying tribute to a tune of the same name by funky jazzman Horace Silver. Tim Hinkley was the musician who assembled the earlier version, involving Zagni in the cutting of several albums. One Step On included heavy-handed arrangements by David Palmer, while the band's Far Canal effort contains a kicking version the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black."

Zagni and drummer Barry Wilson put together the Bogomas band after the public's initial lack of enthusiasm over Jody Grind. Still teamed with Wilson, Zagni then emerged in a new trio entitled Cennamo named after its third member, the talented bassist Louis Cennamo. This player was feeling his oats after playing with Renaissance, with whom he'd established a reputation as a complex, sophisticated musician. None of these ventures stayed together very long, leaving Zagni free to take up an offer from drummer Aynsley Dunbar, definitely the most famous of his musical associations. Dunbar's new band was Blue Whale and had a sole holdover from the drummer's previous combo, Tommy Eyre. Before getting beached, Blue Whale almost attracted guitarist Robert Fripp into joining. The band's self-titled, one and only album was a collection of long jamming numbers including a cover of Frank Zappa's "Willie the Pimp" that was pretty darn good. Maybe too good, since Zappa himself called up Dunbar and hired him away. Listeners who were attracted to Zagni's meaty solos on the 1972 Blue Whale had to wait a quarter of a century until his playing showed up on another well-distributed recording, and even that was archive material. By 1997, the Blue Whale project itself had been reissued.

While many players on the progressive British rock scene such as Jeff Beck and John McLaughlin ran in fear from the sounds of avant-garde free improviser Derek Bailey, Zagni was attracted. By the mid- to late- '70s, he was traveling back and forth between England and the continent, collaborating with players such as bassist Marcio Mattos, the Japanese trumpeter Toshinori Kondo and cellist Tristan Honsinger. When the first wave of American free improvisers began arriving in Amsterdam in the late '70s, Zagni was there to greet them. It was an energized, stimulating time and a surefire gateway to both obscurity and poverty, and Zagni eventually decided to try his luck back in New Zealand. Much of the music created on this beautiful nation remains unheard outside its island borders, making it appear to some that Zagni has not been up to much since his British salad days. He did record a 1982 EP as a duo with Don McGlashan, and began focusing on more extended compositions as that decade progressed. In 1986 he finished "In Stumona Kwae" for voices, recorders and percussion; the piece, which was structured to include children's songs, was recorded and its score published by New Zealand Department of Education in 1989. Zagni has also written music for dancer Mary Jane O'Reilly and her company Limbs.