John Zorn - At the Gates of Paradise (Tzadik, 2011)
When I was in college I had to take one humanities class to fulfill a requirement for graduation. I took a class on the visionary poet and engraver William Blake. I found it fascinating, although I admit that some of his more complex later works were a bit beyond me. Blake's work has had an effect on composer John Zorn as well, and he put together this suite performed by John Medeski on piano and organ, Kenny Wollesen on vibes, Trevor Dunn on bass and Joey Baron on drums. The music takes on a mystical and hypnotic feel, perfect for someone like Blake who claimed to see visions throughout his life. The most evocative pieces on the album for me were A Dream of Nine Nights" and Dance of Albion." The first opens with delicate piano, developing a spritely air with vibes probing and the whole improvisation anchored by strong loping and elastic bass and deeply rippling piano. The latter has a feel akin to Zorn's The Dreamers project with Medeski developing a repetitive piano riff, working dexterously, before cycling into a strong and ominous section, like dark clouds gathering on the horizon. Liber XV" is evocative as well, with Medeski shifting to organ, and Wollesen playing dampened sounding vibes. Rattling drumwork adds to the eerie feel of the music. This music sheds light on Zorn as a composer, and it is interesting how he takes inspiration from different and diverse sources and communicates them to his fellow musicians.