1/ Invocation (Zorn) 7.06 2/ Sex Magick (Zorn) 13.13 3/ Sacred Rites of the Left Hand Path (Zorn) 6.25 4/ The Clavicle of Solomon (Zorn) 9.22 5/ Lucifer Rising (Zorn) 5.17 6/ Leviathan (Zorn) 3.13 7/ Mysteries (Zorn) 5.47 Recorded at ? Produced by John ZornJohn Zorn, Jamie Saft, Cyro Baptista, Jim Pugliese, Greg Cohen, Beth Hatton, Jennifer Charles, Rebecca Moore, Bill Laswell, Mike Patton.
2002 - Tzadik (USA), TZ7338 (CD)
Experimental music icon John Zorn has been living on the edge of deviance for some time now. In the mid-80s, during his six month sojourns to Japan, repeated exposure to extreme porn and S&M rubbed off on him-- enough to find a place in his compositions with Naked City and afterwards. He's produced soundtracks for South American gay porn, placed dead bodies and decapitated heads on his CD covers (there's a pentagram on the back of this one), and composed whole albums about deadly poisons. Zorn seems tempted by the dark side, and it often brings out the best in him.
IAO is his meditation on evil, specifically concerned with the Beast (the name IAO is Kabbalistically identical to 'Satan'). The liner notes tell me it was partially inspired by cult theorist Aleister Crowley, who spent most of his life practicing and writing about the concept of 'Magick.' As much as I can gather, Magick was the practice of governing and empowering one's sense of free will through Gnostic rituals (often with sexual symbolism) and tarot cards, all tied together by a system of strange symbols and a mythical poem called "Liber al vel Legis." Crowley was as subversive a figure as you're likely to find, and it's not hard to see how his esoteric deviance could have inspired Zorn to focus on primal fears and ritualistic lusts.
The music of IAO is classic Zorn: dark ambient exoticism, ethnic percussion exercises, hypnotic suspense-film music, thrash, and avant-garde classical. Similar to his recent "Music for Children" series, he seems to be loosening the reins on his tradition for branding each project an isolated incident, opting instead to use all of his best colors on one canvas. "Invocation," follows Crowley's ritual model, and its clanging cymbals and use of null space seem to nod to Nurse with Wound's similarly disturbing Homotopy to Marie. A church organ (of all things) opens the track with dissonant, wavering chords, and bells rustle along both sides of the stereo. They give way to a whirling tailwind, and what sounds like someone sharpening a blade. And like a black hole, this implodes slightly, only to supernova into a wall of flies. This may actually be the loudest moment on the album, and two minutes in, it's apparent that Zorn's new album is one of the better records to be affiliated with the black arts (a short list, I know). I won't bring up the backwards-singing choir or voodoo sticks, as I'm sure you'll want to experience the sheer thrill for yourself.
"Sex Magick" is probably the most straightforward tune here, a 13-minute tribal percussion trance. Again, the act of ritual plays into the program-- where Crowley may have hinted at carnal desires in his individual yoga-like meditations, Zorn goes for hidden jungle rites of sacrifice and ancient fertility. Musically, I'm not sure the idea of these rituals isn't more interesting than the fairly basic groove set up by percussionists Cyro Baptista and Jim Pugliese, but with this music, imagery is everything. "Sacred Rites of the Left-Hand Path" uses repetitive rhythmic patterns again to describe the ritual, but instead of heavy percussion, Zorn uses understated electric and acoustic pianos, synth, and scattered hand drums. The prevailing atmosphere is not unlike classic Tangerine Dream (or even "Everything in Its Right Place"-style Radiohead), but the strange acoustic interruptions emphasize the music's natural inspirations.
"Leviathan" features Mike Patton on lead, er, screaming, and is arguably the best thrash-influenced track in Zorn's entire catalog. The chaotic percussion (which eventually inverts to being played backwards mid-song-- Zorn is getting better at using the studio as an instrument) and completely unrestrained guitars produce a sound that wouldn't be out of place on a black metal album. Even further out is "Lucifer Rising," which features an a capella female choir. The music is almost soothing, though dissonant, as the circular melody pushes higher and higher. However, what stands out is the sickly, desperately tempting whispers from the soloist. I can't quite make out what she's saying, but it sounds like one part seductive invitation, another part surreal plea for torture.
As I mentioned, IAO falls squarely in line with Zorn's recent projects, wherein he seems interested in integrating many of the elements experimented with over the past twenty years into a single statement. Like 2001's Songs from the Hermetic Theater, and going back to 90s releases such as Kristallnacht and Duras:Duchamp, this record is an example of how rampant eclecticism can lead to something more than just a mishmash of styles. Whatever the inspiration for IAO, the results are often so engaging (and, yes, sometimes scary) that it's hard to question Zorn's motives. Go ahead, come in.
8.3 out of 10
Dominique Leone (courtesy of the Pitchfork website)
a mindblowing concept that is part beauty, magic, and horror
I have to say that John Zorn is one of the more prolific artists out there, especially one that is working so far under the mainstream radar. After being totally blown away by THE GIFT, I picked this one up simply because the subject matter seemed to be well suited to Zorn's ambient jazz noise feel & I wanted to see how he pulled it off. Add to the mix Mike Patton and Jennifer Charles (who were last seen together on Dan the Automator's Lovage album with outstanding results) and this was an album that I had to check out. While the packaging likened it to being as accessable as THE GIFT, IAO is a different kind of beast all together. Where THE GIFT was simply a grooving composition with a hidden agenda under the tropical feel -- IAO is a contemplative work in which all of Crowley's main themes are touched on. It lacks the overall listenability that oozed from THE GIFT but it is a much more deeper, brooding album. The shift in genres throughout the album meld so well together - tribal beats to a haunted house melody of nightmares to slow brooding electronica to a seductive female choral arrangement to a Mike Patton screeching noise collage, this album encompasses it all & succeeds with each jump and movement. As with all of Zorn's releases -- this is a distant album, much different from the usual musical releases but fits wonderfully into Zorn's own collection. In a way it is a darker version of THE GIFT, all tropical elegance and beauty is replaced by a dark magical circle that is both beautiful and horrifying in the same instance. But unlike some of Zorn's releases, this is one that I see myself coming back to after time, to slowly hear it reveal more and more of it. I am not a big Zorn fan, haven't had much exposure save for Mike Patton solo albums with Zorn helping out, the Mr. Bungle influences, but I am slowly coming around, albums like IAO and THE GIFT are some of the best music I have ever heard. I cannot wait to delve in more. This album comes highly recommended.
5 stars out of 5
William Defoe (courtesy of the Amazon.com website)
And so my reviews of Zorn continue. This time, I am visiting his 2002 release, I.A.O. , an album that, like every other in his discography, is distinctly Zorn, yet also different from most of his other work. Indeed, I am constantly amazed at the consistency with which Zorn can find something new and interesting to do, even though he has over 100 CDs to his name (and more if you include other bands that he's been involved with). Nevertheless, he does it with striking consistency, and it seems that no matter what he does, he does it phenomenally, and I.A.O. is no exception.
This time, Zorn forgoes expanding the list of pioneering ways he has blended improvisation and composition (game pieces such as Cobra, file card pieces such as Spillane, etc). Instead, he focuses on the meditative quality of music, producing three wonderfully repetitive and trance-inducing pieces of music. Each has a different instrumentation and thus a different atmosphere, and apparently it's all tied together by some strange philosophy of Zorn, but what really matters is that it shows another side of Zorn the composer/critical thinker. And, as that is what makes Zorn my favorite modern composer in the first place, this album should be a fine addition to any Zorn catalogue.
And indeed it is. Every piece on here is wonderful, a well-crafted slice of musical hypnotism. Don't think that this album is going to be boring because of its tremendous repetition, however, as I.A.O. is an engaging listen from start to finish. The opening "Invocation" is a piece built around organ drones, creating a haunting, eerie sound that bounces in between comfort and discomfort, all while sounding amazing. On the other hand, "Lucifer Rising" is a stunningly beautiful piece composed of looping female voices. If you know his album Mysterium (another gem), this piece is similar to "Frammenti Del Sappho," except without the often disturbing high notes of the latter piece. Instead of mixing beauty with the ugliness (the good kind) to keep you on your toes, "Lucifer Rising" maximizes the beautiful aspect of the female voice, allowing it to lull you into a dream.
That's certainly not all there is to see on this album, however. The highlight (if not "Lucifer Rising") is probably the thirteen-minute "Sex Magick," which sees Zorn exercising a love of tribal rhythms. This piece is purely drums and percussion, and it (at times) makes me wonder why any other instruments are needed in the world of music. While John Zorn has done a better drum-only piece, From Silence to Sorcery 's "Gris-Gris," this is still a wonderful example of how drums can create lush and layered music without sounding showoff-y in the least. And, for the sake of clarity, please note that this piece (and "Lucifer Rising") came before "Gris-Gris" and "Frammenti Del Sappho."
Don't think this CD is all grooves and beauty, however. Zorn's music has always shown a love for the extreme, and that manifests itself here in the second to last track, "Leviathan." Here, Zorn uses his tremendous skill to fit death metal - of all things - into the pattern of the songs on the CD. While he does not succeed completely - "Leviathan" does feel somewhat out of place - it is such a wonderful song that I cannot really fault him for including it. In fact, all I can fault him for (on this album, at least) is the slightest of dead spots that's present in the middle of "The Clavicle of Solomon." Other than that (short) section, this album is a clear masterpiece, one of Zorn's finest efforts. Some of his later work may be slightly better (I'm thinking of Magick and Mysterium in particular), and his career highlight is clearly Naked Ciy, but I.A.O. might just be the best introduction to the world of Zorn. It's fairly accessible yet wonderful at the same time, and it's hard to ask for much better of an introduction, considering that we're dealing with the king of extreme avant-garde.
Need I say it? I guess I must. Highly recommended to all.
Pnoom (courtesy of the Progressive Ears website)