Monday, June 06, 2022

John Zorn and Bill Laswell - The Cleansing (Tzadik Records, 2022)

This meeting of old compatriots John Zorn on alto saxophone and Bill Laswell on electric bass and effects came about just as the pandemic restrictions were lifting in New York City. According to the notes, Zorn hadn't touched his horn in over a year and Laswell had been a virtual hermit in his studio for the duration of the lockdown. But if there was any dust or rust that needed to be knocked off, you certainly don't hear it here. The two men create a wild and wide-ranging program of duets taking inspiration from alleged practitioners of magick, using the stellar music performed here to cleanse body and soul. "Brion Gysin" opens the program in space where probing watery bass flows and ebbs, and saxophone gradually begins to fill in spaces, everything interacting well together. Fast flutters of saxophone emerge like bursts of color, as Zorn climbs to fast and loud terrain, yet retains the dynamic tension of the piece, moving from a whisper to a shrill scream, with his wholly unique saxophone tone. He also employs circular breathing with extraordinary stamina, leading to the performance's finish. Befitting its dedicatee, "Aleister Crowley" has ominous heavy, echoing bass and piercing saxophone, leading to this track's stark beauty. The musicians succeed in creating a huge edifice of sound, with Zorn shrieking like a trapped soul, in a scorching duet improvisation: Laswell's noise filled bottom, Zorn's overblown top. "Austin Osman Spare" is the oddest and most abstract track on the album, where aquatic sounds give an eerie air to the proceedings, bubbling, gurgling playing with pure sound. This resolves to rapid dots and dashes of saxophone, in water and air, with Laswell providing encouragement. Bursts of fleet saxophone and gelatinous bass, where the musicians are creating and commenting on each other opens the track "William Burroughs." Zorn branches out with long peals of rich reedy sound while Laswell draws on his dub experience, building large bulbous waves of bass. Together they explore this alien soundscape, ending on a Laswell bass solo, blobs of sound hanging in space. "Alejandro Jodorowsky" builds swirling intense saxophone, amid a shimmering electronic backdrop leads to powerful and dynamic saxophone playing and improvising, with and against this massive edifice. We hear Zorn at his most scouring, against near white noise, the artist confronting the machine. Finally, "The Cleansing" introduces thick near funky bass notes, and Zorn rides the beat with a restrained tone, cutting back, perhaps playing the most jazzy thing on here, although clearly headed in other directions, most notably in the direction of creating one of the best albums of the year. The Cleansing -

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