Record Review - 2 December 12 2001

Tokyo-born turntablist DJ Krush — whose name honors the Wildstyle/Krush Groove mid-'80s hip-hop era that inspired him — went from the bedroom to the background (supporting live bands and rappers) before his '90s breakthrough. Once established worldwide as a premiere producer of atmospheric instrumental hip-hop — partially thanks to the revered status of then-label Mo' Wax — Krush proceeded to layer his thick manipulated breaks with vocal contributors as ethnically mixed as his jazzy Japanese-produced, East Coast-influenced joints.

Krush returns with Zen, his sixth "solo" album (not counting jazz excursions and mix CDs) and his most downbeat effort to date — similar in mood to a smooth trip between DJ Premier and the chill-blunted production of France's DJ Cam. The Zen road is one of clarity through simplification, and while DJ Krush hasn't returned to strictly turntablist composition, he has more succinctly structured his beat production.

A master of balancing moody melodies and head-bobbing flow, Krush welcomes contributions from the Roots' Black Thought and ?uestlove, Zap Mama, Company Flow, N'Dea Davenport, DJ Disk, Kudi drummer Tunde Ayanyemi, trumpeter Kazufumi Kodama and more. Despite the delicate textures Krush drapes over his bass beats and haunted loops, none of his guests overpower their respective tracks. And therein lies the only complaint about an otherwise superlative album. Save for the drum 'n' bass of "Sonic Traveler" and the intergalactic electro of "Duck Chase," the tracks on the appropriately named Zen are so sedate they relegate themselves to the background, complementing the memorable atmospheres more than drawing your attention.

For those looking for throat-grabbing, gritty hip-hop, well, what are you doing checking out DJ Krush in the first place? But for those who feel ambiance should hang heavier on hip-hop than platinum Rolexes, enlighten yourselves to Zen.

DJ Krush spins Thurs., Dec. 13, at eleven50.??