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John Zorn - Transmigration of the Magus CD (album) cover


John Zorn



3.83 | 5 ratings

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4 stars This year 2014 project from the tireless John Zorn shares an obvious bond with his "In Lambeth" album, released a mere ten months earlier. Both efforts were brought to illuminated fruition by the aptly-named Gnostic Trio, employing the same evocative combination of harp, guitar, and vibraphones, augmented here by even more vibes and a second harpist, plus organist John Medeski of MMW fame: an obvious kindred spirit.

The music is thus equally dreamlike and haunted, and with the expanded line-up presents an even richer experience. The absence of a rhythm section lends the album an almost childlike simplicity at times, but also invests it with a profound sense of rediscovered innocence, like something Fred Rogers might have embraced after forsaking his Neighborhood of Make Believe to become the High Mage of some benign irreligious cult.

The album was actually intended as a tribute to the late Lou Reed, created to aid his passage into the afterlife, through "a musical evocation of the mystical journey of the soul through the bardo" (quoting the CD notes). Despite my natural skepticism, I would like to imagine the shade of the man who authored the notorious "Metal Machine Music" album finding solace in the gentle encouragement of this collection.

Zorn has often been attracted to themes of esoteric magic, and here he found the perfect alchemy of soothing musical ingredients and deeper metaphysical inspiration. His friend and mentor (and fellow New Yorker) Lewis Allan Reed may have been the magus named in the album's title, but it's Zorn himself who weaves a binding musical spell, conjuring 44-blissful minutes of instrumental enchantment.

Irrelevant postscript... This album marked the final lap of a weeklong dash across the unfamiliar terrain (to me at least) of John Zorn's immense discography: seven albums chosen completely by chance, and considered in chronological order. If active listening is a prerequisite to knowledge, music by itself can be an education. And what I learned from this seven-day adventure is that the lesson never ends. Much like the work of his doppelgänger FRANK ZAPPA (another multi-faceted composer, performer, conductor and arranger), any single John Zorn album is only the visible ridge of a larger, living mountain of sounds.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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