Tuesday, May 24, 2016

John Zorn - The Mockingbird (Tzadik, 2016)

This album was inspired by the character Scout from the classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird and shows John Zorn’s compositions at their most subtle and graceful, floating across the divide between literature and music. The trio has become a regular group that Zorn has convened to interpret some of his more understated compositions, featuring Carol Emanuel on harp, Bill Frisell on guitar and Kenny Wollesen on vibraphone and chimes. “Scout” opens the album with shimmering vibes which are met with some snarling guitar sounds (Zorn always brings out the best in Frisell) and there is a near chamber sound to some of the music, like on “Riverrun” where the harp glistens and the chimes twinkle, before things take a darker turn, hammering sounds and then pulling back to show their dynamic muscle. The milder “Child’s Play” builds through Wollesen’s melodious ringing sounds, which take center stage as guitar and harp hold back. He develops an interesting rhythm his own for this entire piece. Gentle guitar that sounds like it may come from an old time ballad opens “Porch Swing” and that deep emotional feeling that Frisell is able to conjure deepens the emotional resonance of the music as the harpist gently orbits around with gentle strums and the vibes further frame the music. Wollesen makes his mallets spritely dance as the trio joins together for the conclusion. There is a sweet and haunting melody to “Innocence” that the trio builds louder chiming together, then like a fairy tale gone wrong, the music turns progressively darker and spectral, as the heavy handed vibes become more urgent in their tone. “A Mystery” is a great track and really lives up to its title by having a quiet unsettled aura before Wollesen comes in with heavy clangs and lashes of metallic vibes sounding like the cry for help of a lost soul that deepens the mystery even further. His excellent playing allows the music to cover a range of emotion, and the wailing sound of the vibes and electric guitar is head filling and unforgettable. There is a lighter and defter movement to the music on “The Mockingbird” and while the vibes stay urgent to give the music a propulsive forward movement, the harp and guitar are in fine mettle. As the hard vibes ring out, taut guitar moves in with glistening harp to develop fine concluding textures. This is their sixth album and one of their best, presenting quiet and subtle music touching upon themes of hope and fear, sadness and courage with great tact and dignity. Mockingbird - amazon.com

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