John Zorn


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Let's take away John Zorn's ecstatic -- some would say diarrheic -- hyperbole in the sleeve notes for a bit and look at the trio here: vocalist Mike Patton, drummer Joey Baron, and bassist Trevor Dunn. Given their individual and collective résumés, the possibilities are nearly endless. These three offer Moonchild, Zorn's "contemporary song cycle," the feel of something that for the most part doesn't quite feel like song in any way we currently recognize -- even in hardcore punk and metal genres which this set gets its inspiration from -- but it's far more than mere improvisation. In his notes Zorn claims to have been "combining the hypnotic intensity of ritual (composition) the spontaneity of magick (improvisation) and in a modern musical format (rock)." Good enough, but what it seems like in a simplistic sense is that he's interested in the power dynamic of rock to change certain elements of both. And changed they are. He claims his spiritual inspiration from the mad genius of French letters in the early 20th century, Antonin Artaud, magician and proto "new age" theorist Aleister Crowley, and the brilliant vanguard composer Edgard Varèse. Moonchild supposedly "touches upon" magick, mysticism, ritual shamanism, and decadence" among other things. Sure it does. By contrast, so did Naked City and Painkiller -- though admittedly, these pieces feel more focused than either. Throw that stuff out the window, and the music one is left with is disturbing, dynamically brilliant, taut, and full of surprise, delight, and humor. These tracks feel like guided improvisations in ways that seem to come out of the conceptual ideas for the second Masada book, "Book of Angels." But it most certainly is rock -- in scope, power, feel, and shattering intensity. "Possession" would not have been out of place on one of the last two Captain Beefheart albums, the title track is a slow, evil-sounding creep through the basement of modern song; "Summoning" would not have been estranged from the later Burzum catalog; and some of this music -- "Part Maudite," "Abraxas," "Caligula" -- could be covered by San Francisco's late, great black metal band Weakling. At just over 45 minutes in length, it is staggering how exhausted yet fulfilled the listener is after encountering this music. For jazz fans, run away as fast as possible. For Zorn fans of the aforementioned works, this is for you, or for those who follow Patton and Dunn. For those looking for a new and brutally exciting form of rock music, Moonchild is the only thing that does the trick.

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