Thursday, July 12, 2018

John Zorn - In a Convex Mirror (Tzadik Records, 2018)

Most of John Zorn's output these days comes as a composer or facilitator, so it is always exciting to hear him pick up his alto saxophone and blow in an unfettered and free environment. His playing has lost nothing of the bracing power that has been a guiding force in his music, but wisdom and experience have taught him to temper the howls of raw emotion with moments of grace and humility. He also adds some fender rhodes electric piano textures to the album which finds him in excellent company with Ikue Mori on electronics and Ches Smith on Haitian tanbou, bells and cymbals. The first track is an exploratory eighteen minute improvisation called "Veve," that opens with meditative percussion and electronic soundscapes providing further textures to frame Zorn's unique and biting saxophone tone. He rips out peals of raw and rending sound that fit in well with the unusual percussive accompaniment and the unpredictable electronic flourishes. Their collective improvisation is free and unfettered with Zorn's nimble saxophone at the center of the maelstrom punctuating his longer runs with sharp squeals and bellows. The tanbou produces an natural, elastic sound that works well in this configuration, adding an ever shifting rhythmic center for the saxophone and electronics to orbit. Zorn is just ripping through his solos with great gusto, and the sound is harsh and mesmerizing, primal, yet fully controlled. Mori is the wild card in this setting, adding swoops and swirls of sound that amplify and uplift the improvisational setting, leading to a viscerally satisfying trio sound that achieves a unique identity. "Through a Glass, Darkly" moves in a more atmospheric direction, with electric piano chords setting the tone, ringing out in space with accents of gentle percussion. When Zorn moves to saxophone it is in a more reflective and melancholy vein, and his playing is melodic and quite beautiful. The music is moody and cinematic, analogous to a late night film noir, as the music develops a haunted elegiac tone, with restrained sadness at its core.  Smith's rhythmically charged percussion turns ever faster, against the languid saxophone and electronic sounds creating a rich ebb and flow between the music, providing a catalyst for further exploration. Zorn's saxophone returns to it's piercing, laserlike quality on "Le Tourbillon" in conjunction with insistent percussion that develops a hypnotic rhythm, perfectly suited for Zorn's long foghorn like blasts of sound and fast flutters of notes. The incantation like nature of the performance is furthered by the manner in which Mori can produce sounds from her instruments, adding just the right touch to this bubbling caldron of sound. This group creates an unusual amalgam of free jazz, experiential electronica and world rhythms that is very successful. Each of the musicians has a relentlessly inquisitive nature, and by combining their efforts they create riveting and very successful results. In A Convex Mirror - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.