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Friday, August 24, 2012

John Zorn - The Hermetic Organ (Tzadik, 2012) ****

There is no shortage of personalities. A seemingly endless list in fact of people whose voices are so distinctive in their chosen profession, that it is almost impossible not to hear that voice when they choose to delve into something else, something different. A prime example of this for me was when George Carlin decided to write books. Even though he is not on stage and you can't hear him, it is almost certain that it will be his voice rattling around in your head as you read. The book will give you everything that he was known for; the pauses, the quirks, the sarcasm, and of course all of the in jokes. You can almost hear him with your eyes.

In a similar sense, we are all familiar with John Zorn and his language with the alto saxophone. His pauses, his quirks, his sarcasm and of course his in jokes are all recognizable.

In "The Hermetic Organ", Zorn decides to offer up his voice to us and the heavens through a completely different instrument, the pipe organ.

The recording begins before the first note is played. A very nice touch as it sets the mood of being in a church, and waiting for something. People are there but not talking. The acoustics have a mind of their own. The natural reverb of a footstep seems to ring forever. Then the low drones of the opening track 'Introit'  begin. With contrasting wisps of the highest registers, occasional bells, and combined with the constant pulsating rhythm, it is definitely time to get into Zorn's head for the quick 36 minute running time that this album has in store for us.

A little of Zorn's humor gets into the next movement as he almost makes it sound as if a mouse had gotten lost in the massive instrument and was being chased by the runs being played by Zorn's right hand. There are even some of his surf elements here albeit slower, possibly due to the limitations of the pipe organ.

From here the music continues to build until we approach what seems to be a church crumbling moment, a time when all the stained glass explodes outward and a great beast is summoned. Then, rather unexpectedly, at the 20 minute mark, there is a pause for nearly 2 minutes. It is here that we get a slight break form the onslaught of the organ but again to have a chance to hear the church. A footfall, a cough in a far away pew, a sniffle all add to the experience. The tension is broken soon enough with a piercing note before the album's conclusion.

This is a type of recording that needs to be savored, played loud and with good headphones.

With my comparison to a great comedian not withstanding, this is a very serious recording, especially with the themes he tackles and the environment he tackles them in. Rarely is Zorn recorded solo lately and this alone makes it special. In a year of a new Zorn album every month, it would be a shame to see this one get ignored.

Zorn talking about the project can be viewed here:

Can be purchased from the label.

© stef