3 December 2014

John Zorn & The Gnostic Trio - Transmigration Of The Magus

This will be the last review I do before the blog deadline.  It has come from the prolific avant-garde artist John Zorn.  Now I have heard the name an awful lot and to my knowledge the only time I have heard him play was on 'Utilitarian' by Napalm Death.  This year alone, he has released five solo works; this one is done with help from The Gnostic Trio according to the press stuff on Amazon.  On reading the piece about it on the Tzadik website, it is not much clearer to me if this is John Zorn by himself, with the Gnostic Trio or the trio plus more members.  The album was created as a way for John Zorn to deal with the passing of his close friend, Lou Reed.  The main reason I picked this album was basically down to the cover, it was a very striking image and I was hoping to find an album that would match it.  Let's see if this goodbye to a lost friend is a worthy tribute...

Starting the album is “Into The Light” which starts with some pretty guitar working, nothing complicate here at first; but with each sequence there is further layers added, giving the impression of a sea of strings that pour onto the listener in gentle waves.  It also changes speed around the two minute thirty mark, harsher sounds start to drift into the music which contrast with the other guitar work on here.  Then the bells start to chime, they start to mix together and you can feel as if you are drifting down an ever changing river; constantly in motion.  It is a beautiful piece of music that is total absorbing from the opening notes to the ending gentle strum.  After this is the title track – “Transmigration Of The Magnus”.  This starts with a medieval bard-esque strumming, very gentle and pleasant; it is soon joined by a harp and percussions before the rest of the musician being to play.  You have an organ in the background, the percussions and a slowly guitar solo which all take turns at the forefront of the number.  This is a much more complex number to the opening strumming of “Into The Light” and whilst it sounds all clear and light, it has the complexity that I was hoping for as I started this album and is something that would have made Sir Zappa smile as it does not let the listener relax or lull for a moment.  It is a constant looping sound which gives different emotions depending on the listeners’ mood at any given time.  “Perfect Mind” is another track that swimming with a beauty that cannot be fathomed; I have been listening to this album on and off for a month or so and I just cannot put my finger on this song.  It feels like a living thing, it is evolving in front of you and that is something very rare in music these days.  It moves me in ways that I cannot describe and it also makes me drift into the distance whilst it is play.  A track to be lost in when you need to empty your mind.

“Providence” is the fourth track on this album and it starts off with a more sinister tone over all, it sounds like a bad nightmare is happening around the musicians as they create the music.  It loops with the expert delivery of people who are well versed in this sort of music and has an almost rock vibe about it.  As classic/jazz goes, this is very intense and intimidating to the listener and a thoroughly brilliant experience.  “Gnostic Hymn” follows on from “Providence” and it is a much more sedated and reflective number.  The bard-esque playing is soon followed by a faster pace of the instruments making their way through the number, approaching a new section of the song at quite a pace; even when the key changes it still feels as if they are in a rush to make their music which is in their minds a reality for the audience.  It is a good tune that keeps the album on the right path.  “Apocryphon” is another number that goes back to a more jazz fusion back ground, it is also the first track where you hear a voice in the recording; not an intentional, I think it was Mr Zorn guiding the assembled players on another flight of fancy.  The way the vibraphones keep the song together combined harps makes it a stirring piece for the listener.

The seventh track is called "The Divine Word", it starts off more random upon the first listen; but it is not random at all, there are just so many layers.  The more I listened to it; once again it started to remind me of Mr Zappa.  It is an album that really would have been just up his street, this song is another example of the wonderful world of avant-garde music.  Penultimate track "The Three-Fold Thought" is next album and this track is truly brilliant.  From the opening moments of the number, the band sound as if they are a million things are happening at once; but it is just a fantastic piece that sounds some complex that it ends up being incredible simple to enjoy.  Just let that sound wash over you, it is such a nice song that it makes the soul soar like a bird of prey in the sky.  I cannot recommend this song any higher than that.  Ending the album is "Merlin" and this starts with a tiny piece of reverb from the guitar, slowly it fills with other sounds from the rest of the band, drifting in and out of your hearing much like the sounds that keep you awake in the still of the night.  It ends the album on a spooky and slightly frightening note.

I do not think I have heard an album this strange for a long time, whilst also sounding so normal in places as well.  It is a very touching tribute to Lou Reed; nine tracks of musical brilliance that are as soft as water, but with all the power of an ocean sweeping over your soul.  I think that it might not be the album for everyone as there is a few sections of the album that just go a little bit too far off the beaten path, but for those who are interested in something that is just beautiful - you should try this album.  

9.5 out of ten - Almost perfect, almost perfect

Top track - The Three-Fold Thought

You can purchase the album on Amazon here

You can visit the John Zorn record label here and you can purchase it direct from the artist here

The album is not on Spotify or Deezer, not condemning or condoning - just stating the fact

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