Friday, November 20, 2009

Is John Zorn's New Music "Easy Listening?"

John Zorn is a musical rebel. Throughout his career he has had a certain restless view of genre, never content to get pigeonholed as a writer-performer in "X" category. So he has created music in the concert modernity, the avant garde, bop, improv, free, modern Jewish music, death metal, and others besides.

One of his new recordings, Alhambra Love Songs (Tzadik) for piano trio (Rob Burger, Greg Cohen and Ben Perowsky) seemingly has yet another immersion in unfamiliar (for Zorn) genres. The notes on the cover of the CD announce that the music contained within is "in an easy listening mode," then go on to mention Vince Guaraldi, Henry Mancini and Ramsey Lewis.

So what of the music? Does it makes sense or does it even matter that this could be called easy listening music? OK, it is not difficult listening. It certainly has something about it that reminds of the Guaraldi trio and others like him: very melodic, lyrical, yet rhythmically engaging.

What matters is that the music is in fact a delight to hear. There are odd time signatures, catchy melodies, rock and jazz combinations a la Medeski, Benevento, the Bad Plus and others lately prominent. And there is no small amount of improvisation involved--in the Guaraldi-early Jarrett mode for the most part.

The trio does a capital job creating a trio presentation out of Zorn's pieces, and in the end it's the capacity to delight that puts this disk over the top. Enjoy, and call it anything you like.

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