John Zorn / The Dreamers

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O'o Review

by Thom Jurek

Essentially, John Zorn's O'o (named for an extinct Hawaiian bird) is a sequel to his brilliant and wonderfully breezy Dreamers set issued in March of 2008. The band is exactly the same: guitarist Marc Ribot, keyboardist Jamie Saft, drummer Joey Baron, bassist Trevor Dunn, percussionist Cyro Baptista, and vibraphonist Kenny Wollesen. Given that this is a thematic musical sequel, it holds the same potential trap as a cinematic one: that the constraints of the first chapter become so stultifying that they end up deeming themselves unnecessary as a seamless footnote to the original. A first listen to Zorn's ease with this meld of sounds-from surf to exotica, from cinema cues to grooving soul-jazz and '60s blues and rock themes -- makes this seem to be so, as well. That said, first impressions are completely deceptive. If anything, this is an intricately sequenced, impeccably performed series of tunes that meld together in a cycle that is seamless yet wildly diverse and more detailed than Dreamers. Careful attention reveals a wealth of musics on display. On the aptly titled "Mysterious Starling," the repetitive theme played by Saft offers diminished minors before the shimmering drums of Baron, the understated atmospherics of Ribot's guitar, and lushness of Wollesen's vibes enter. This is a jazz tune recalling both the precision of Bill Evans and the gentle lyricism of Erroll Garner. Its expansive harmonics are combined with lithe melodic cues; the other instruments accent and embellish what's happening rhythmically and texturally. Elsewhere, on "Little Bittern," it's Ribot who guides the band with his knotty solo work, sharp chord voicings, and effortless glide between blues, surf, and garage rock. Saft's Rhodes and the rhythm section begin playing a slow shuffle, then Ribot's out front tearing it up with jagged, distorted blues bleeding into one another. "Archaeopteryx," sounds like a film noir theme. Ribot plays all bluesy atop Baptista's hand drums and gorgeous percussive colorings, with dissonant background touches from Saft, and minimal arco work from Dunn. The vibes become the constant backdrop on which the entire track turns. There are far lighter modes, too: the sprightly exotic flavors of "Laughing Owl," is where samba and South African township music meet and groove in a beach blanket dance number. "The Zapata Rail," though brief, is a B-3 and vibes duel that becomes a travel suite; the key and tempo change, and everything moves up a few notches, creating a groove intensity that is as tough as it is lush. Ribot eventually blows it up in an explosion of guitar heroics. Ultimately, O'o is not only a worthy successor to Dreamers, it also goes deeper. The band has been together longer, and has gelled as a unit in the studio. The compositions may be tighter but they are also more exploratory, requiring more individuality among the various players. They make this sound easy; it's a testament to their strength. It seems obvious that Zorn had this band in mind when he was composing these pieces; the adventure is in the rich detail work like a fine Polynesian tattoo. O'o is every bit as accessible and fun to listen to as Dreamers is, but in many ways, it's even more satisfying because it feels like a work rather than a collection of tunes. In fact, the only thing more pleasing than listening to this album would be hearing it performed live.

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