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Masada - Mycale: The Book of Angels Volume 13 CD (album) cover

MYCALE: THE BOOK OF ANGELS VOLUME 13

Masada

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.05 | 5 ratings

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Ricochet
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Everything is set for the John Zorn Year in Music, but it all depends on the artistic triumph of the 12 albums the American composer is planning for 2010, one for each month. Whether or not it will be that way, the news is still seriously thrilling, especially for connoisseurs. I wonder instead if the idea itself, however surprising, is in any way radical, coming from such a prolific artist. There's a serious dose of showing off in his current ambition, lacking probably the most a no-matter-how-risky (even for a serial thinker like Zorn) inter-conceptuality between the 12 works. We can rather say that it's a record number of releases (for Zorn, not for Tzadik as well), either continuations of already matured series, either having to do with relatively new conceptual resolutions. But this thing has been going on for more than a decade anyway.

The first album from the big sequence (Mycale: Book Of Angels Vol.13) has its own share of "junk trivia", easy to be remarked with an observant eye. Compared to the 12 volumes of the original Masada project, this one now stretches further in an indeed unforseen way, strengthening the belief (one confirmed a long time ago, anyhow) that klezmer has become more than just a second great musical and compositional orientation for John Zorn. But the most interesting detail has to be the novel vocal approach (the album being introduced to us as being in an exquisite "a cappella" spirit) of a form of music that, until now, has been the subject of numerous instrumental interpretations and visions, harmonised in jazz, experimental, chamber music or, undeviatingly, klezmer. Even on the bigger scale, what we have here is a pretty notable and rare comprehensive example of vocal Zorn. Beyond any meaning of comparison, I don't believe the intention of this vocal project can be likened with precursor traditions, such as collages of voices, the "spoken words" manner (in the memorable Spillane or elsewhere), the incantations from the slightly-daemonic oriental New Traditions In East Asian Bars, the occult studies at the crossroad of the 90s with the 00s, or, to exhaust all instances with the most extreme case of all, the hardcore katharsis practiced by Patton or Eye, as well as several other directions, mostly experimental but never concretely imposing. At least through its presentation, Mycale is alludingly promising and hard to neglect.

After all, what could be more appealing in this album? Certainly not so much the new Zorn collection item itself, as perhaps his most intimate involvement in conceiving a Book Of Angels album, and certainly not so much the new slice of cult fantasy and contemporary stilistic klezmer, as a sensible motion outside the center of such a sphere. John Brackett described klezmer as one of the traditions Zorn looked into based on a principle of approaching the rarely-approached. Hereon, just like the instrumental interpretations off the previous album didn't necessarily reflect "the Masada klezmer", but each of the artists' class, neither is the vocal music off Mycale exclusively klezmer-related, but tends to go instead with a subtly richer pallette. But the above-mentioned principle does mount, at least concerning the folklore hand-picked by Zorn for this work, and valiantly describes the music, at least until everything slips into something lighter, or the quartet's performance places itself above the music or the style.

We mustn't expect something original from the composer. As far as the musical experience goes, it is pleasant enough for the simple music fan, but also with moderate enough valences, reduced to vocal style and accents, to make the initiated find it hard to believe that they're listening to something truly special (a curse I sadly think it hits every volume, in comparison with the much more tonic Masada model recordings). Regardless how much a cappella, I can't feel classical choral sustenance at all, but rather a twice between folk (with fragments from Pessoa sounding rather more expressive than the ones of a more esoteric origin) and vocal jazz. The studio effect is austere; there's also little to talk about improvisations or other means of evading out of form. Imitating here, for 4 voices, typical Masadian compositions written so many times for instruments, the music has a structural profile, revealing both the individuality of each voice (everything tending to always start from a rhythmic foundation, on which the solistic melodicity blossoms soon after) and the unitary if variable success of the dialogues born between them (I can't feel harmony elsewhere but in the choruses, the rest dealing with something else). Occasionally, such details are more discrete, musicality prevailing, yet I can't deny that several more such moments would have been desirable.

Vocal art in a never presented before form by John Zorn, a new and fresh musical variation of the Masada canon, an equally fine debut for a new decade in the artist's career, a reasonably styled album or just pleasant-proned music. At least one of these reflects what it's all about in Mycale.

Ricochet | 3/5 |

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