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Monday, April 10, 2023

John Zorn-Bagatelles Vols 9 - 12 (Tzadik 2023)

By Gary Chapin

In his third Bagatelles studio set, John Zorn gives us a set of four CDs focused on guitar, much the way the second set focused on piano. Matt Hollenberg and Daniel Ephraim Kennedy (of Cleric, playing volume 12) gave an interview about working with Zorn a few years back on the Masada project, The Book of Beriah. He explained Zorn’s rules, and it feels like they might have some bearing on the Bagatelles process.

Daniel : [Zorn] has a kind of rule that you have to set the idea the way he wrote it just once in the tune, but then you can develop from there.

Matt : There were a couple of arrangements we made where we did his thing in the middle or something and we kind of made our own weird intro. Because if you just write what he wrote down, there’s maybe thirty seconds to a minute, tops.

The guitar genres go all over the place in terms of approach and the set is a great object lesson/reminder of how broadly the guitar inhabits that downtown music aesthetic.

Volume 9 features the trio Azmodeus—Marc Ribot, guitar; Trevor Dunn, bass; Kenny Grohowski, drums—a cooperative trio, but it is really Ribot’s opportunity to spread and our opportunity to bask in it. The general tone of things is built on a ground of rock-ish, surf-ish delights, with Grohowski playing a driving, abundant kit. I can imagine Zorn sitting there conducting this, “Move! Move! Move!” Noise is never that far away, and thank God for that.

In a profoundly effective act of programming, Zorn puts Julian Lage and Gyan Riley into the Volume 10 slot. The acoustic guitar duo uses classical techniques to produce an hour that is intense and sublime. I imagine the process, Lage and Riley, given 32 bars of melody and figuring out, “What are we going to do with this?” It’s knotty music, with turns and roundabouts, complex and immersive.

The Jim Black Quartet—with Black on drums, Jonathan Goldberger and Keisuke Matsuno on guitar, and Simon Jermyn on bass—is the “jazziest” of the four volumes, primarily because Black’s drums seem as melodically motivated as rhythm. It is striking how in this “guitar” set, the drums are so determinate. Even in the Lage/Riley set, the absence of drums is a presence. For the Black quartet, the two guitars are in separate channels. On headphones the sense of overlapping dialogue is powerful.

Finally, Volume 12, features the aforementioned Cleric doing their hardcore overwhelm. These apparently divergent genres being phenomenologically related is an argument that has defined Zorn’s career, and the fact that in Clerics work, you can hear the germ of the Bagatelle surrounded by the emergence of the performers is just another piece of evidence.

The real joy of sorting the tune from the arrangements—which I admit is my own side-obsession—could only happen if we heard two or more bands playing the same tunes. Zorn frustrates this nerdy desire of mine. So far, every tune on the set is played only once. Which makes sense if Zorn since wants to hear all the Bagatelles realized. And also, so do I. I want to hear every single one of these 300 gems.


Sam Eastmond said...

I’d love to hear all 300. I’m plagued by the unrecorded Masada tunes.