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April 2003

Patrick Zimmerli and Octurn
The Book of Hours
Songlines

The Book of Hours is a seven-movement suite composed by Patrick Zimmerli for the 10-piece Belgian ensemble Octurn. The suite is based on the medieval monastic tradition "wherein a different prayer was recited at each of seven different times of day." Jazz, it would seem, has spread its reach far from its origins in the whorehouses of New Orleans.

Zimmerli is interested in exploring the demilitarized zone between contemporary classical music and jazz. Baritone saxophonist Bo Van der Werf leads Octurn, which contains four horns (with Zimmerli added on soprano saxophone) and a "double rhythm section" of piano/guitar, two electric bassists and two drummers. What these musicians create together, from "Dawn" through the segments of the day ending in "Night" and "Sleep," is a unified work of extraordinary structural precision, executed with impeccable craftsmanship.

There are solos, but Zimmerli meticulously plans for them. "Noon," for example, is a highly calculated interface between Van der Werf's baritone and "constantly fluctuating pulses" written out for the percussion. "Afternoon" has Guillaume Orti's alto saxophone and Fabian Fiorini's piano oscillating in frenetic unisons based on 12-tone arrays. "Dusk," with its single melody line moving in sevenths across the ensemble, is as intellectual as the blues gets. "Night" is a fast, intricate rondo. The concluding "Sleep" is the movement that comes closest to unadorned melodic grace, and Zimmerli, in a glistening instrumental tone, offers the most compelling individual statement on the album. But in Zimmerli's world, even "Sleep," with its detailed, thoroughly scored counterpoint, is a highly conscious realm.

Like so many projects on the Songlines label, The Book Of Hours is refreshingly idiosyncratic, musically sophisticated, beautifully recorded and conscientiously produced. But it is an album that is easier to respect than to love. A whole hour with its left-brain fussiness leaves one craving some jazz with blood and guts.

Originally published in April 2003
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