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Tap: John Zorn's Book of Angels, Vol. 20

Pat Metheny

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Album Review

On his own recordings, Pat Metheny has always pushed his artistic envelope. Very occasionally when moving to the outside, it's been to the chagrin of some fans. It happened with Ornette Coleman on the brilliant Song X in 1985; next was on the screaming guitar effort Zero Tolerance for Silence in 1994, and finally on his collaboration with Derek Bailey on The Sign of 4 in 1997. But while his collaboration with another true American original, the prolific composer John Zorn, is outside work for Metheny, it may not alienate longtime fans due to its relative accessibility. The Book of Angels is the composer's second book of compositions based on ancient, often mystical Jewish music; it contains over 300 pieces. These works have set melodies but leave plenty of room for other musicians to interpret and add to them. Other than drums — played by Antonio Sanchez — Metheny performs everything: guitars, orchestrion, piano, bass, bandoneon, bells, even flügelhorn. He takes Zorn's mysterious compositions and completely recontextualizes them while remaining true to them. Metheny introduces new musical ideas, myriad textural flights, and rhythmic invention to these works with a wide colorist's palette. "Mastema," with its hypnotic theme, is adorned by rock drumming from Sanchez, who handles the 11/8 signature with ease, while Metheny layers numerous countrapuntal guitars, backmasked, wailing solos, and shifting orchestrion pulses to dynamic result. Likewise, the contemplative acoustic guitars of "Albim" give way to a shimmering swing that adds tinges of tango and Brazilian music — it wouldn't have been out of place on one of his own albums. The heart of "Tharsis" is a klezmer melody. Acoustic guitars, percussion, guitar synth, and piano display Metheny's signature euphoric interiority and balance with the inherent lyricism in Zorn's tune even as Sanchez forcefully pushes at the tempo. "Sariel" uses tiples, baritone, and high-stringed guitars to shape the melody. It's like a choir of ouds. As the piece develops, chord structures advance the sketch, and eventually Sanchez enters, adding a rock thrust. Metheny piles on electric guitars and basses to go on an extended workout, soaring with harmonic ideas and textural elements that resemble those from Italian film scores of the 1970s and '80s. No matter how unfettered his imagination runs on these pieces, neither he nor Zorn disappear. The set's closer, "Hurmiz," may raise a few eyebrows. Metheny plays piano in a duet with Sanchez that suggests free jazz, though the attention to space, form, and lyricism is inherent. Tap: John Zorn's Book of Angels, Vol. 20 is a special album in both men's catalogs. (It's being released simultaneously on both Nonesuch and Tzadik.) These compositions offer Metheny something that he's seldom been able to take advantage of. While he's regularly performed the works of other composers, he has seldom had the opportunity to so thoroughly orchestrate and arrange them. Ironically, this collaboration has resulted in giving him the freedom to explore his artistic expression as an individual, at a deeper level.

Customer Reviews

Only took about 2 min to make the purchase

I was listening to the review of the album on NPR and after hearing clips of a couple songs, I was instantly combing iTunes looking for this. There is so much to unpack cerebrally while still being able to enjoy the rhythms and textures. I've only had one pass through the album but know that this is going to be my goto album for awhile. Nice job!

Among Metheny's best work

I've long thought Metheny amazing, but never really liked any of his albums. Just not my style, I guess---UNTIL NOW! His interpretation of Zorn's songbook takes him into heretofore uncharted waters, and it's utterly magnificent! Beautiful, virtuosic, and enduring.

50% unlistenable

I'm a huge Metheny fan, own most of his albums and go see him in concert whenever he come to Atlanta. Most recently the Unity Band and his Orchestion tour before that.

That said, I'm disappointed with this album. I found a little over half the tracks to be too experimental to be worth multiple listenings. The two longer "album only" tracks are accessible, if also a bit on the challenging side, even more so than his early fusion stuff.

For Metheny fans who need to own his discography, buy it for the two long tracks ("Phanuel" and "Sariel"). Just don't expect to be able to add this album in with your Unity Band or PMG playlists. It will stick out and be as unwelcome as Bill Gates at MacWorld.

Wish it weren't so but this is not close to his best work.

Biography

Born: August 12, 1954 in Lee's Summit, MO

Genre: Jazz

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

One of the most original guitarists from the '80s onward (he is instantly recognizable), Pat Metheny is a chance-taking player who has gained great popularity but also taken some wild left turns. His records with the Pat Metheny Group are difficult to describe (folk-jazz? mood music?) but manage to be both accessible and original, stretching the boundaries of jazz...
Full Bio
Tap: John Zorn's Book of Angels, Vol. 20, Pat Metheny
View In iTunes
  • $10.99
  • Genres: Jazz, Music, Contemporary Jazz
  • Released: May 17, 2013

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