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John Zorn

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Album Review

John Zorn's utter fascination with and envelopment in the mystical occult and outsider art of the 19th and 20th centuries continues on Astronome. Dedicated to the same three figures who informed Moonchild (also released in 2006): magician and philosopher Aleister Crowley, poet and dramatic Antonin Artaud, and composer Edgard Varèse. Drummer Joey Baron, bassist Trevor Dunn and vocalist Mike Patton take on three lengthy compositions by Zorn, all of which were inspired by the success of the original song cycle. Zorn not only wrote, but arranged and conducted what essentially comes off as an aural three-act play, or "pocket opera" covering seven scenes. In his liner notes, Zorn speaks of his title as the imagined continuation of a collaboration that actually took place between Varèse and Artaud. It was titled "Astronome," but was never finished. Zorn using his methodology of "combining the hypnotic intensity of ritual (composition) the spontaneity of magick (improvisation) and in a modern musical format (rock)," and with it actually transcends rock, classical, jazz and free improv. What is woven together here is a tight piece of work. It sprawls through mood, style, dynamic, and texture, but ultimately is revealed to be a work of intense musicality, physicality that comes out of noise and some free improvisation. The second scene that bridges the work reveals all of these elements and makes sense of their order. It uses thematic material from the previous scene and extends it all the way to scene three. This music is violent, spacious, full of shocks and surprises and an intensity beyond what one is used to listening to, even from this composer. It is possible that what appears on this disc will be regarded one day as actually quite beautiful and moving, especially when Patton seems to be incanting in the lower registers of his voice. Packaged like a fetish object, Astronome is contained in a two-part, glossy white box with four full-color — yet minimal — panels of the art of the Zodiac circle. There is printing on all sides of the box. There are also two glossies within the set loaded with photographs of the three spiritual guides who hover throughout this gorgeous monstrosity of a work; scenic sepia-toned plates, the occasional quotation, and text by Zorn. The sound on this baby — thanks to engineer Robert Musso and the mixing sensitivity of Bill Laswell — is simply amazing. Astronome cannot be explained or even commented upon with conventional written-language technology; that said, each true fan of Zorn should make the effort to try and take this work in. It's a masterpiece.


Born: 02 September 1953 in New York, NY

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

The one word virtually everyone can agree on in any discussion of the work of composer John Zorn is "prolific," in the strictest sense of the definition. Though he didn't begin making records until 1980, the recordings under his own name number well over 100, and the sheer number of works he has performed on, composed, or produced easily doubles that number. Though now an internationally renowned musician and the founder and owner of the wildly successful and equally prolific Tzadik imprint, Zorn...
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