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Moonchild Trio - Six Litanies for Heliogabalus CD (album) cover


Moonchild Trio



4.14 | 41 ratings

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4 stars Rating: A

If you don't know what a litany is, there's no shame in that. I didn't either when I first picked up John Zorn's Six Litanies for Heliogabalus. Finally, though, I cracked open my dictionary and discovered that litany has two meanings:

1. a prayer consisting of a series of supplications and responses said alternately by a leader and a group. 2. a lengthy recitation

Both are helpful in understanding John Zorn's Six Litanies for Heliogabalus. The entire CD is structured as a series of calls and responses between the abrasive, heavy drum-bass-vocal trio of, respectively, Joey Baron, Trevor Dunn, and Mike Patton (you might recognize the latter two from Mr. Bungle) and soothing organ and choir dominated sections. Even on a smaller scale, though, this call-and-response format applies, such as at the end of "Litany I," where Mike Patton on vocals and John Zorn on saxophone trade off, Patton babbling (as usual), followed by John Zorn make his sound like a very musical cat in its death throes. The second definition applies specifically to "Litany IV," a purely vocal piece where we are treated to what indeed is "a lengthy recitation" courtesy of Mike Patton.

This still doesn't explain what Six Litanies for Heliogabalus sounds like, however. Six Litanies is a continuation of, a departure from, and an improvement on John Zorn's Moonchild and Astronome CDs. Like those two, Six Litanies features Baron, Dunn, and Patton, but Six Litanies works from a far more varied palette than just those three (who were the sole performers on Moonchild and Astronome). Six Litanies also includes jazzy organ, a beautiful female choir, John Zorn's own saxophone, and Ikue Mori's famous electronics.

This is the key reason why Six Litanies for Heliogabalus is an improvement on Moonchild and Astronome. Those CDs were amazing when chugging full throttle (as Six Litanies often does), but they had softer sections that felt a bit too much like noodling, and which occasionally failed to engage the listener. On Six Litanies, these sections are absent, instead replaced by the organ, choir, and electronics sections, which are atmospheric, beautiful, and above all captivating. Not only do they provide a needed break from the otherwise non-stop action, the keep the listener actively engaged, and they stand up in their own right, not just in context.

And, of course, I still haven't explained what this CD sounds like, except perhaps for the choir sections. In the bass, drum, and vocal dominated sections, the drum and bass hold down an ever shifting groove while Patton wails maniacally over the top. It's almost impossible to tell that only a bass is used, as it covers a wide range (including a tremendous amount of distortion). All of these sections are challenging and avant-garde - Zorn isn't the founder of extreme avant-garde for nothing - but because it is groove based (and because of the choir sections), Six Litanies actually contains quite a few hooks.

The only fault with Six Litanies for Heliogabalus is that Patton's vocals can get in the way of the music at times (this is rare, but it does happen a few times), though his solo piece is awesome, particularly where he imitates themes from the first three litanies solely with his voice. On the whole, Patton's vocals are amazing, but I feel that if Zorn were to take the format established here but use saxophone exclusively (no vocals), or at least make the saxophone more dominant and the vocals less so, I feel he could produce his best CD. Until then, that honor belongs to Naked City, with Six Litanies a not-so-distant third (Spillane tops it by a hair, but isn't as good as Naked City). A masterpiece, recommended to anyone with an adventurous ear. Among the best CDs released in 2007.

Pnoom! | 4/5 |


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