Wednesday, June 19, 2019

John Zorn - The Hierophant (Tzadik, 2019)

This album is a new collection of compositions from John Zorn inspired by the allegorical tradition of the Tarot. Written for jazz piano trio, the music is performed by Brian Marsella on piano, Trevor Dunn on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums. The performances are thoughtful and varied, developing upon a wide range of approaches, themes and atmospheres. The album opens with the title composition “The Hierophant” which is fast and urgent as the three instruments bob and weave around one another and develop wonderful rhythms, particularly from the drums which take an impish delight in moving things along. The bass is taught and strong, playing the straight man between the bounding piano and whiplash drumming, but sounding just right. Marsala is a perfect fit, because he has interpreted Zorn before and is able to burrow deeply into these compositions and find nuggets that can be used for fine exploratory improvisations. “The High Priestess” follows with a touching introduction for piano sounding haunting and distant, and aided by subtle brushwork and fine bass playing. The music is nimble and thoughtful, swinging gracefully and encompassing a compassionate bass feature during the middle section of the performance. There is a splashing and wild atmosphere to “The Devil” with manic bowed bass and cascading piano and drumming creating a fantastic scene. Short stop and go passages twist tempo and time as the music curls back upon itself in trickster like ways before bowing out with an air of mystery. “The Hermit” is a piece for solo piano, carving out sound from the lower end of the of the instrument and allowing it to hang in space, contrasting those figures and phrases with short flourishes of brighter notes gives the music and emotional bent and fulfilling a cohesive whole. Sizzling bass and drums lead “The Hanged Man” into play with piano quickly following as the trio takes a very exciting and fast paced improvisation that flows with energy running with leaping strides as the music develops under their fingertips. Dynamics come into play with quick bursts of silence, and ever-changing cells of speed and volume. “Death” is appropriately sinister and a wonderful feature for bowed bass, played with dark tone and evil intent, yet the centerpiece of this performance and exquisitely played as the skittish piano and percussion move around the bass and act as a framing device. Percussive piano and drums are at play on “The Tower” sending out coded messages before embarking on another very fast and well played midsection of crisp bass and drums and rapidly flowing piano. They reach light speed, collectively improvising in a dazzling manner, bouncing back to the theme and then to the improvisation like acrobats performing spectacular feats. This was a very good album, the compositions from Zorn were very interesting and the playing and improvising from the band were excellent. The Hierophant -

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