Saturday, May 28, 2016

A few words about "Flaga: The Book of Angels, Volume 27", an album by John Zorn

Some years ago, I had the crazy stupid idea of writing about every album John Zorn released, kinda sorta as they appeared. So, I got to the end of 2011 and there things stalled. Given that he has released something in the vicinity of 50 albums under his own name since then, I think it is fair to say that that idea has well and truly flown the coop. (I suspect that, had I actually attempted to get back into it, the main stumbling block would have been the recordings of his ongoing tour of the world's church organs: four albums (and counting) of solo organ recitals a la John Zorn is quite possibly four more than I could handle.)

Nevertheless, I have, you will not be surprised to learn, been keeping a close eye on the continually evolving (and multiplying) "Book of Angels" series of recordings, the sequel to the magnificent klezmer-jazz fandango that went under the name of "Masada". Having, or so it would seem, retired the classic Masada jazz quartet, which has been responsible for some of the most exciting, adrenaline-rush playing ever to have appeared under Zorn's name (others may differ in this estimation; but "Live at Tonic" is the rare example of a live recording where you can actually feel the audience pushing the band to greater things and the band responding in kind: it's a hoot), with the Book of Angels he has taken a different approach, hand-picking from a wide variety of players and ensembles to conjure many and varied interpretations of some of the three hundred-plus pieces that make up the Book.

Old fuddy-duddy that I am, my own excitement levels have tended to increase with the appearance of Masada favourites like Marc Ribot, the Masada String Trio and the Dreamers ensemble, but there has been much to like amongst the many other releases (even if the big drawcard, Volume 20, with Pat Metheny at the helm, was (says me) rather disappointing).

I want to draw particular attention, right now, to Volume 27, a piano-trio setting that came out a couple of months ago. Not being especially into the contemporary jazz scene, I can't really comment on how this record fits into the output of the players involved, or even if they have worked together before, but, in a word, "Wow". The playing has a certain propulsion to it, like, well, I don't know like what. Maybe like hurtling down a very steep and long hill on a pair of roller skates without a sense that you will be stopping any time soon, or how you might even do that, picking up speed all the while. You just have to close your eyes and hope for the best. The pianist, Craig Taborn, can be as lyrical as all get-out but is also prone to flights of abstract expressionism. The drummer, Tyshawn Sorey, might be the Keith Moon of jazz, playing everywhere but on the beat (and at ten thousand miles per hour). All of which frequently leaves Christian McBride (whom you have probably heard of), on the upright bass, as the glue that holds everything else together. I discovered that it is possible to lock onto what McBride is doing and let everything else kind of flow around that. It's not the only way of listening, but it is a way. However you do it, it's a rewarding listen.

I was going to conclude by noting the possibility that this would be a good place to end the Book of Angels, given that the very first entry, eleven years ago now, was also a piano trio (featuring Jamie Saft). But, of course, in the five minutes since this record came out there has been another volume (with John Medeski on board). And so we beat on, boats against the current etc etc.

Zorn doesn't abide the streaming thing, which means you are going to have to buy his records. Consider this a recommendation.

A taste: