John Zorn

The Gnostic Preludes: Music of Splendor

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The Gnostic Preludes is the fourth chapter in the mystically influenced recordings that began with In Search of the Miraculous and continued with Goddess: Music for the Ancient of Days and At the Gates of Paradise. Despite the wide range of Zorn's mystical investigations throughout his career, these four records -- thus far -- have more in common with one another than the rest of his catalog. While all have featured different groups, the one constant is vibraphonist Kenny Wollesen (who also plays bells). Harpist Carol Emmanuel appeared in the Goddess ensemble. The addition of Bill Frisell to these proceedings feels essential for what Zorn was trying to accomplish with this particularly intimate group of compositions. His instantly recognizable tone; easy, laid-back, readily accessible style, and his ability to become an equal part of an ensemble make him an ideal choice. While the sleeve notes namecheck early music, early minimalism, and Debussy, they infer inspiration, rather than describe the music found here. In these compositions, simplicity is the key. "The Middle Pillar" walks a gorgeous line between Sephardic sources as well as those of 20th century Spanish music, from modern flamenco to guitarist Pepe Romero. "The Book of Pleasure," a soulful, laid-back chamber piece, contains elements of jazz, and to a lesser degree, Brazilian folk music. Given a less skeletal arrangement, it would not have been out of place on a Dreamers recording. The way Wollesen and Frisell dance around one another on "Music of the Spheres," with Emmanuel finding a middle space and canny ways to texture the backdrop, evokes everything from cinematic serial music to mellow surf! The harp and Wollesen's bells and vibes are the rhythmic centerpieces that Frisell's playing turns on in "Circumambulation." Here, patterns invert themselves just as they establish repetition, with truly colorful textural highlights by Wollesen. The interlocking grooves on "Sign and Signal," and the more subtle but equally rhythmic, almost heartbreakingly beautiful closer "The Invisibles" suggest that what Zorn was perhaps creating was a music so internally harmonic, it would tunnel through perception toward an intuitive comprehension of its intent. The Gnostic Preludes is poetic, deceptively simple, and spiritually vast in scope.

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