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John Zorn - Nova Express CD (album) cover

NOVA EXPRESS

John Zorn

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.05 | 4 ratings

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Anthony H.
Prog Reviewer
3 stars John Zorn: Nova Express [2011]

Rating: 6/10

Nova Express is the first of the five albums that John Zorn released in 2011. 2010 was a prolific year for Zorn; he released melodic-jazz, contemporary-classical, and avant-rock releases during a mere twelve months. This unbelievable productivity continued in 2011, starting with this piece of experimental third-wave jazz. Nova Express features the piano/vibraphone/bass/drums setup that is typical on Zorn's melodic-jazz releases, but this album is not completely mellow. These pieces seem unsure whether or not they want to be melodic or cacophonous. Jangling disharmony contrasts with quiet melody. Sometimes, these two extremes are layered on top of each other to create something that is both mellow and brutal at the same time. Zorn is no stranger to such juxtaposition, but he rarely combines the sonic spectrum in such a fluid manner. Unfortunately, this combination sounds emotionally distant most of the time.

"Chemical Garden" opens the album with drum blasts and disharmonious piano/vibe insanity. The musicianship here is astounding. "Port of Saints" is more subdued. The driving bass-line gives it a distinct sense of menace. "Rain Flowers" starts off like a free-jazz piece, but it transitions into a nice piano groove with vibe soloing. This is one of the best tracks on the album. "The Outer Half" is pure mellow jazz with pleasant quiet piano work. "Dead Fingers Talk" is a short vibraphone solo that further displays Kenny Wollensen's chops. "The Ticket That Exploded" features some more excellent soloing, but it doesn't do much to separate itself from the rest of the album. The semi-ambient "Blue Veil" features a superb bass solo, but the track drags on a bit as a whole. "IC 2118" pulls more of the same tricks, even though the piano work is undeniably impressive. "Lost Words" is a mellow bass-driven interlude that serves as another highlight. The album ends with "Between Two Worlds", which also happens to be the strongest track here. This is Zorn-style melodic jazz as its best.

Nova Express is a good piece of semi-experimental contemporary jazz, but it doesn't stand out as one of Zorn's best releases in the style. The musicianship is jaw-dropping, but it often seems to be too technically focused (an unusual problem for jazz music). Homogenous compositional structure is also a major flaw here. Still, this is an enjoyable piece of work, and I have fun listening to it. O'o, In Search of the Miraculous, and At the Gates of Paradise are all superior albums, though.

Anthony H. | 3/5 |

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