John ZORN – O'o 2009

John ZORN – O’o 2009

Jazz

It may seen difficult to believe, but John Zorn’s all-star lilting surf combo is able to sound better on each subsequent release without actually overshadowing previous releases. Since I loved “The Dreamers” so much, I had reservations about hearing “O’o.” On one hand, I might be disappointed if it didn’t measure up. On the other hand, it could be of such high quality that it would dwarf an album like “The Dreamers” in my mind, reducing great music to a mere footnote.

Well neither one happened with me when I first heard this new album. “The Gift,” “The Dreamers,” and “O’o,” they are each the same in their different ways. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way you look at it, its pretty fresh, unique and entirely reverent to the Zorn catalog. In other words, don’t be afraid. Embrace it. There is formula, and there are breaks in the formula. It’s highly melodic and any CD that features Marc Ribot on guitar is worth purchasing. And yes, the packaging is something to behold. Especially in the age of digital downloads.
Listen to the sample of “Kakawahie,” hopefully that will be enough to persuade you.
By J.Garratt.
**
Essentially, John Zorn’s O’o (named for an extinct Hawaiian bird) is a sequel to his brilliant and wonderfully breezy 2008 set, DREAMERS. 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. 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 the lushness of Wollesen’s vibes enter. This is jazz that recalls both the precision of Bill Evans and the gentle lyricism of Erroll Garner. 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. 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.
**
Named after an extinct Hawaiian bird, O’o is the charming follow up to the self-titled debut of composer John Zorn’s most accessible project, The Dreamers. Culled from Zorn’s inner circle of longstanding collaborators, this all-star sextet of Downtown veterans explores his most tuneful compositions, threading aspects of easy listening, exotica, film soundtracks, surf, and world music into an evocative panorama.

Zorn’s recent forays into conventional song forms and traditional structures reveal a softening approach to composition. Though no stranger to melody or harmony, Zorn’s musical statements have become more cohesive and predictable over the past few years—the polar opposite of his seminal game pieces, like Cobra, and his most revered band, Naked City. Although the mercurial improvisations of his early game pieces still drive the furious Electric Masada, and Moonchild continues on its nineties-inspired path of metallic destruction, his neo-classical chamber music writing, acoustic Masada projects and ensembles like the recent piano trio featured on Alhambra Love Songs (Tzadik, 2009) offer a more introspective view. Since the dissolution of Naked City in the early nineties, each of Zorn’s various ensembles has adopted a distinct identity; Masada has become the standard bearer, while The Dreamers are the yin to Moonchild’s yang.

With a mix of wistful nostalgia and cinematic ambience, The Dreamers brings Zorn’s fondness for Post-War exotica to life, invoking the buoyant surf of The Astronauts (“Laughing Owl”), the celluloid drama of Ennio Morricone (“Archaeopteryx”) and Nino Rota (“Miller’s Crake”), and the enchanted island sounds of Martin Denny (“Po’o’uli”) and Les Baxter (“Solitaire”). Marc Ribot’s singular guitar dominates, particularly on the scorching “Little Bittern,” while Kenny Wollesen’s effervescent vibes and Jamie Saft’s percolating keyboard filigrees provide an array of kaleidoscopic euphony. Trevor Dunn’s robust bass lines, Joey Baron’s infectious drumming and Cyro Baptista’s ingenious percussion accents provide the group with a solid rhythmic foundation that never wavers, lending the quicksilver tunes that dominate the album’s final third a vivacious air.

Exploring a range of moods, the sextet invests these colorful miniatures with vibrant lyricism, elevating them beyond mere incidental music, making O’o a delightful, if unsurprising listen.
By Troy Collins.
**
John Zorn- Arranger;
Marc Ribot- Guitar;
Jamie Saft- Piano, Organ;
Kenny Wollesen- Vibraphone;
Trevor Dunn- Bass;
Joey Baron- Drums;
Cyro Baptista- Percussion.
**
01. Miller’s Crake 4:18
02. Akialoa 4:46
03. Po’o’uli 5:41
04. Little Bittern 6:29
05. Mysterious Starling 4:32
06. Laughing Owl 4:44
07. Archaeopteryx 5:06
08. Solitaire 2:10
09. Piopio 5:11
10. Zapata Rail 2:52
11. Kakawahie 4:14
12. Magdalena 5:07
**


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