Monday, January 11, 2010

John Zorn - Moonchild: Songs Without Words (2006)

| Avant-Garde | Noise Rock | Avant-Metal |
| Experimental Rock |

The one word virtually everyone can agree on in any discussion of the work of composer John Zorn is "prolific," in the strictest sense of the definition. Though he didn't begin making records until 1980, the recordings under his own name number well over 100, and the sheer number of works he has performed on, composed, or produced easily doubles that number. Though now an internationally renowned musician and the founder and owner of the wildly successful and equally prolific Tzadik imprint, Zorn is a cornerstone of New York's fabled and influential downtown scene. In addition, he has played with musicians of every stripe. He is also a musical gadfly: genre purity, and pursuing the ends by which it is defined, is meaningless in Zorn's sound world, hence making him a quintessential mirror for 21st century culture. He has mentored countless musicians in the U.S., Europe, and Asia and has given exposure stateside via his Tzadik label to many others. His compositions have been performed by hundreds of artists, including the Kronos Quartet and Medeski, Martin & Wood. In addition, he has composed literally dozens of film scores. He has been the subject of books and documentary films as well.

Let's take away John Zorn's ecstatic hyperbole in the sleeve notes for a bit and look at the trio here: vocalist Mike Patton, drummer Joey Baron, and bassist Trevor Dunn. Given their individual and collective résumés, the possibilities are nearly endless. These three offer Moonchild, Zorn's "contemporary song cycle," the feel of something that for the most part doesn't quite feel like song in any way we currently recognize -- even in hardcore punk and metal genres which this set gets its inspiration from -- but it's far more than mere improvisation. In his notes Zorn claims to have been "combining the hypnotic intensity of ritual (composition) the spontaneity of magick (improvisation) and in a modern musical format (rock)." Good enough, but what it seems like in a simplistic sense is that he's interested in the power dynamic of rock to change certain elements of both. And changed they are. He claims his spiritual inspiration from the mad genius of French letters in the early 20th century, Antonin Artaud, magician and proto "new age" theorist Aleister Crowley, and the brilliant vanguard composer Edgard Varèse. Moonchild "touches upon" magick, mysticism, ritual shamanism, and decadence" among other things. Throw that stuff out the window, and the music one is left with is disturbing, dynamically brilliant, taut, and full of surprise and delight. These tracks feel like guided improvisations in ways that seem to come out of the conceptual ideas for the second Masada book, "Book of Angels." But it most certainly is rock -- in scope, power, feel, and shattering intensity. "Possession" would not have been out of place on one of the last two Captain Beefheart albums, the title track is a slow, evil-sounding creep through the basement of modern song; "Summoning" would not have been estranged from the later Burzum catalog; and some of this music -- "Part Maudite," "Abraxas," "Caligula" -- could be covered by San Francisco's late, great black metal band Weakling. At just over 45 minutes in length, it is staggering how exhausted yet fulfilled the listener is after encountering this music. For jazz fans, run away as fast as possible. For Zorn fans of the aforementioned works, this is for you, or for those who follow Patton and Dunn. For those looking for a new and brutally exciting form of rock music, Moonchild is the only thing that does the trick.

Catalog: TZ 7357 (Tzadik)
Album Overview on Allmusic

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