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John Zorn - Simulacrum - The Painted Bird CD (album) cover


John Zorn



3.93 | 16 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars The music of John Zorn's umpteenth 2016 album (that's only a slight exaggeration) describes the point of impact where Jazz and Rock not only intersect, but totally obliterate each other in a matter/anti-matter annihilation of sound. If you're looking for one of his more polite neo-classical fusions, be warned: this ain't it.

The album instead presents a near-literal instrumental holocaust, and I don't choose that loaded word lightly. Zorn was (possibly) inspired by the notorious 1965 Jerzy Kosinski novel of the same name, which follows a Jewish orphan in the early days of World War II across "a Bosch-like world of harrowing excess", according to one source. Zorn extends the simile to his album cover illustration, likewise borrowed from Hieronymus Bosch: a detail from his sprawling triptych "The Last Judgement" (center panel, lower right).

Look at the canvas, listen to the music, and you'll discover parallel worlds of metaphysical chaos. The album mixes jazzy vibraphones (by Kenny Wollesen, as usual), grinding Hammond organ (from old pal John Medeski) and distorted electric guitars, with a crazed rhythm section adding drums, more drums, and a battery of bass guitar, because it wasn't necessary. And if you can't imagine the acoustic vibraphone as an essential tool of Heavy Metal, you obviously aren't familiar with the music of John Zorn.

Even the composer's own Tzadik record label describes it as "insane". Which would of course make it a perfect musical analogue of European history, circa 1940.

This was one of maybe a dozen albums released by Zorn in 2016, each in a different musical idiom (and with different sets of musicians), and none requiring the composer to wear a bucket on his head to get our attention. Over his decades-long career Zorn has done everything from classical chamber music to straight jazz to soundtracks and surf music. But sometimes he apparently just has to let all his demons off their collective tether, and crank up the volume.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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