Nick Zoulek’s influence on the fields of modern music and avant-garde performance has added color, energy, and light to the enigmatic world of contemporary saxophone. The Wall Street Journal writes, “...Mr. Zoulek’s performance, on saxophones in every range, is stunningly virtuosic, whatever the genre… None of that would matter much (except to saxophonists) if Mr. Zoulek were a less imaginative composer.”
An artist of “pure mindfulness and talent” (PopMatters), Nick’s craft has taken his Midwestern roots across France, the United Kingdom, Canada, Serbia, India, Italy, Uganda, and the United States. He remains equally engaged in solo performance, multimedia collaboration, improvisation, and commissioning new works. Nick’s unique abilities on the horn have been lauded as “a no-holds-barred engine of avant-garde exploration,” (Portland Press Herald) with the capacity to “[take] you to other worlds.” (Milwaukee Magazine)
Experimenting with the emotional potential of visual performance, he has scored and performed dance works with Wild Space Dance Company, the Madison Ballet, HYPERlocal, and with members of the Zenon and Like You Mean It dance companies. Mixing digital production with immersive storylines, vibrant color, and advanced cinematography, Zoulek’s film works are rhythmic, primal, and intelligible, and have garnered international awards including Best Experimental Film from the London Modcon International Film Festival. Off screen, Nick’s music can be heard on his 2016 album Rushing Past Willow (INNOVA Records), which fuses all of facets of his work through pieces for alto, tenor, and – less commonly heard by the greater public – the towering bass saxophone.
-words by Zach Schwartz
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"The border between avant-garde jazz and certain flavors of modernist chamber music is porous, of course, and Mr. Zoulek’s performance, on saxophones in every range, is stunningly virtuosic, whatever the genre. Circular breathing yields rapidly undulating, swirling figures that seem unstoppable. Overblowing produces ... fascinating chordal figures, as well as evocations of electronic timbres and feedback. None of that would matter much (except to saxophonists) if Mr. Zoulek were a less imaginative composer. Several of his pieces—“Reconsolidate: In Memories,” “These Roots Grown Deep” and the swirling “Symmetry: In Memories,” most vividly—use repetition as an engine. But each has a distinct character, and in every case, Mr. Zoulek’s repeating figures quickly sprout layers that create an illusion of counterpoint. ... [H]is layers are built more inventively, with rhythmic patterns tapped assertively on the instrument’s keys, and bursts of strange timbres—buzzing tones that sound like overheated electrical lines, for example, or brash, sliding multiphonics that suggest an electric guitar with a distortion pedal—becoming second and third voices in expanding dialogues."
-The Wall Street Journal
"Zoulek’s sax imparts biological life into the waves of sound, as if some vast pale beast is making spectral gestures. Nick Zoulek has it going on! “SSBT” reshuffles our expectations of sound, projecting trancelike cultural memories up a psychic periscope rising into imaginal realms. It’s wickedly contagious, bizarrely beautiful and extraterrestrial all at the same time. In short, it’s magnificent. Don’t miss either “Silhouette of a Storm Bent Tree” or Rushing Past Willow.”
“….pure mindfulness and talent.”
“This is why Zoulek’s work is so unexpected: the tones he creates, especially in “Silhouette of a Storm-Bent Tree” challenge what any music fan has ever known of understood about what a saxophone can do.”
“…melodic lucidity and a wide scope of illustrious instrumental mastery.”
"...a no-holds-barred engine of avant-garde exploration"
-The Portland Press Herald
"...a tour de force."
"...Rushing Past Willow pulls you into [a] swirling portal of disciplined arpeggiations packed with shifts and flourishes, bringing to mind the work of German synth pioneers like Cluster and early Tangerine Dream. However, Zoulek isn't triggering a synthesizer or twisting filter knobs-he's playing this stuff manually on a sax, which is insane for the amount of controlled dynamics he brings to the timbre, volume, and frequency spectrum."
"The beginning of “Leafless Against the Sky” is beautiful in its simplicity: the chemical interjects nature. The sound design warns of a plague. The chemical stains, and then grows. The tension builds and I am on the edge of my seat. There is so much frightening beauty in decay. Death by colour – the ending is visual poetry. The film is focused and measured and delivers exactly when it should. There is a superb sense of awareness towards rhythm. Hands down one of the best projects I’ve reviewed for this festival. The film is simple but kicks a punch – well done to the maker!"
-Break Big Film Festival
"...dark notes in the gathering twilight...the music stirred my bones."
"...[performed] with sensitivity and wit."
-Third Coast Digest
"...a delight...[will] take you to other worlds."
"Beautiful harmonies sang in contrast to mysterious knockings and hums, and finally to ungodly, soul shattering blasts."