This unusually titled album (named for an extinct Hawaiian bird) is a sequel of sorts to John Zorn’s album The Dreamers, which was released in 2008. Both have short compositions of cinematic texture which use the varied colors in the palate of available instrumentation to create accessible music that hints at exotica, lounge music and film scores. Zorn does not play saxophone on this recording, but his compositions make an indelible imprint on the nature of the music. The performers on this album are: Cyro Baptista on percussion, Joey Baron on drums, Trevor Dunn on bass, Marc Ribot on guitar, Jamie Saft on piano and organ and Kenny Wollesen on vibraphone. Ribot’s stinging electric guitar takes center stage on “Little Bittern” backed by fender rhodes electric piano and a solid backbeat. Acoustic piano is the centerpiece of “Mysterious Starling” moving through an enigmatic soundscape of shimmering electric guitar and vibes. “Laughing Owl” is a spritely and upbeat song that gets a “space age bachelor pad” feel by putting the vibraphone front and center. “Piopio” uses the similarly hued fender rhodes and vibraphone to create a unique light and airy feel to the music, while “Archaeopteryx” moves in another direction entirely, evoking the haunted landscapes of Cormac McCarthy or James Lee Burke in its quiet melancholic longing, it would be ideal movie music. “Zapata Rail” builds to an explosive Ribot solo, in many ways he is the hero of this album, playing beautifully regardless of tempo or texture. This is a unique and interesting album. Using a wide variety of musical colors and music inspired by nature, John Zorn has crafted a intriguing suite of music. It is fascinating to see how Zorn’s music has evolved in this year alone. He has been de-emphasizing the saxophone to focus on composition with this band, a Masada unit with Joe Lovano in the saxophone chair and soundtrack music based around Ribot’s guitar. Much fascinating music from an ever evolving musical polymath.
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Unnatural Ways - We Aliens (Tzadik, 2016) ****
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