Metheny Tackles the Zorn Book of Angels

Pat Metheny: Tap - John Zorn's Book of Angels | Vol. 20

Pat Metheny: Tap - John Zorn's Book of Angels | Vol. 20

To say that John Zorn has a constantly evolving musical palette would not be understating the facts. Within that canvas resides, revelation and exploration - important ingredients, just as important as the blending of styles or the surplus of approaches for the different types of collaborative compositions he has created for the sidemen involved. This collaboration of paths between Zorn and guitarist Pat Metheny, as one of the performers/interpreters of his Book of Angels series (a subset of Zorn's ongoing Masada saga), is certainly worth the journey and listen. Both artists' long and storied careers never seemed to intersect. Zorn has predominately worked closely with Downtown artists or recording artists related to his Tzadik label, and his works has never, until now, featured such a luminary artist with equal statures such as of Metheny.

It is in the liner notes where it is revealed that both artists had been following each other's careers with great interest, and had been communicating regularly. Metheny's career is well documented with occasional twists and risk- taking, and he has recorded and performed many pieces that are miles apart from the classic sound he has created and by which he is most widely identified with. In recent times, he has been defying expectations by challenging and offending the status quo with a string of stylistically and conceptually different records, and Tap: John Zorn's Book of Angels | Vol. 20 is no exception.

Tap is a meeting of two highly contrasting yet original composers, conceptualists as well as stalwart players. One of Zorn's characteristics and strengths is that he always composes pieces that give space and emphasis to his artists' identity and character. While his compositions from the Masada series are based on Jewish scales—spiked with influences from the world of jazz —they are used more as a template upon which the artists can build. While Metheny is no stranger to covering compositions by jazz composers or songs from the pop world, as displayed on What's it All About, (Nonesuch, 2011), Tap - John Zorn's Book of Angels | Vol. 20 is only his second time playing compositions written by an avant-composer, as he did on composer Steve Reich's Electric Counterpoint (Nonesuch, 1987), which consequently made him even more well-known when it was sampled for the '90s ambient house hit "Little Fluffy Clouds," by Britain's The Orb.

The opener, "Mastema," features precise repetitive patterns and melodies, when Metheny introduces his arsenal of instruments it bursts into a fountain of colorful sounds. Supported by drummer Antonio Sanchez's complex 11/8 rhythm, this track introduces different textures and moods, with churning guitars, fuzzy tones, loops - contrary to the ambient backdrop typical for Metheny's work, is closer to the kind of music found on Tzadik, it is wonderful to hear Metheny in this setting.

"Albim" is an introspective, gentle acoustic number, with hints of folk and melodies that are keenly and almost unnoticeably entwined into the fabric of the song, the acoustic textures and drums flush out the moments of introspecting and jagged edges. "Tharsis" highlights an eastern Jewish melody more commonly being used in today’s jazz moniker. An upfront, repetitive and dynamically swirling middle section, resembling a Balkan style of gypsy swing is used quite efficiently. The music is hypnotic while remaining exciting in its repetition.

Other highlights include "Mastema" to "Hurmitz," Metheny infuses each composition with a enough jazz language, to easily attract the listener’s comfort level, but with a prevailing number of points of departure to keep the listener in a state of unpredictability. The coming together of two influential figures is a refreshing approach, but more importantly the respect, understanding and care that Metheny shows on Zorn's music is a distinctive way of embossing Zorn’s music to a completely different listenership through Metheny’s fan base and vice versa. Full of muscular, gritty and equally pensive melodies, Metheny's execution of Zorn’s compositions I hope will open up an entirely different avenue for future collaboration between greats. Certainly, this record hopefully with pave that road and maybe its own legacy.

Track Listing: Mastema; Albim; Tharsis; Sariel; Phanuel; Hurmiz.

Personnel: Pat Metheny: acoustic and electric guitars, baritone guitar, sitar guitar, tiples, bass, piano, keyboards, orchestrionic marimba, orchestra bells, bandoneon, percussion, electronics, flugelhorn; Antonio Sanchez: drums; Willow Metheny: voice (6).

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H. Allen Williams