Wednesday, February 19, 2020

John Zorn - Beyond Good and Evil: Simulacrum Live (Tzadik, 2020)

After recording six studio albums in two years, John Zorn decided that his power trio, Simulacrum, was best heard and recorded live. This concert was recorded at Firehouse 12 in New Haven in July of 2019 and shows the band, John Medeski on organ, Kenny Grohowski on drums and Matt Hollenberg on guitar drawing on compositions from four different studio releases. It demonstrates how action packed and exciting that a live performance by these three very talented musicians playing the music of a maverick composer can be, blending heavy metal and jazz in the crucible of improvisation to create a interesting and successful live recording. The group leads off with the epic composition “The Illusionist” which unfolds episodically, with a grinding and ominous organ sound, met by crushing guitar and drums leading to the building of a massive edifice of riffing sound. Hollenberg alternates his crushing sound with intricate threads of notes, and Medeski adds bubbling organ sounds as the music breaks to slightly lesser volume. They alternate massive Sabbath like stomps with very articulate and intricate passages either for soloist or the unit as a whole, building to apocalyptic heights and then slowing to near silence, with perfect clarity. “Ravens” uses billows of organ to build the scene, with nimble guitar notes adding mightily to the nature of the music and subtle drumming keeping pace. The music grows a little greasy, nodding to the soul jazz roots of the organ trio even if they are miles away from it, with a scorching guitar solo lighting up the stage going over the top in a good way, leading to a fine drum interlude framed by organ splashes. There is an urgent theme hitting you in the face on “Plague,” which then turns to lead into a full band blowout that re-imagines early '70's King Crimson at their fiercest followed by the band  doubling down on the guitar pyrotechnics and sand blasting drum work. “Dark Pageant” jumps right off, powering into a fast and muscular groove. Swirls of organ add color to the gritty and grinding guitar and drums, which sound like heavy industrial machinery, before Hollenberg jumps ship on a starry eyed prog/fusion guitar solo with all of the trimmings. “Angelic Voices” picks right up with scouring guitar and drums barreling forward with no thought for health and safety before the music shifts to a more dynamic nature where the three instruments can interact with each other on a more level playing field. Medeski provides swathes of color, which is much needed amid the pneumatic grind of the guitar and drums, pushing a heroic tempo to the breaking point. The closing track, “The Divine Comedy” is another long and evolving performance, which suits the band well, not forcing them into a smash and dash short cell, but allowing the crushing heaviness to be eased by moments of graceful and melodic playing. It is the dynamic side of the band which is shown in this performance that is most compelling, where they are able to interact with one another and the materiel in thoughtful and creative ways. Beyond Good and Evil Simulacrum Live -

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