1/ Metapsychomagia (Zorn) 7.31 2/ Sacred Emblems (Zorn) 3.03 3/ Circe (Zorn) 6.02 4/ Squaring the Circle (Zorn) 5.51 5/ Celestial Mechanism (Zorn) 2.33 6/ Evocation of the Triumphant Beast (Zorn) 6.24 7/ Four Rivers (Zorn) 3.54 8/ The Namless God (Zorn) 4.35 9/ Anima Mundi (Zorn) 4.14 Recorded at December 2 and 3, 2013 at Orange Sound Engineered by James Dellatacoma Mix translation by Bill Laswell Produced by John Zorn Associate Producer: Kazunori SugiyamaAram Hajakian: guitar; Eyal Maoz: guitar; Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz: bass; Kenny Grokowski: drums.
2014 - Tzadik (USA), TZ 8313 (CD)
As the composer, producer and arranger, Zorn left the actual performance of his music to the modern Moroccan-Jewish experimental rock combo Abraxas. Led by bassist Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz, Abraxas is completed by drummer Kenny Grohowski and the dual guitar threat of Eyal Maoz and Blumenkranz’s Kef bandleader, Aram Bajakian.
Zorn is productive to the extreme and a site could keep busy just devoting itself to covering only his output. Psychomagia is a spot we picked to highlight because it’s another installment of Zorn’s Masada Book Two – The Book of Angels series and his last one, Tap: Volume 20, famously featured Pat Metheny, earning wide acclaim last year. But for Volume 19, Abraxas was the vehicle and Zorn is already returning to the quartet two volumes later; he’s only used a musical act twice in this series once before. Other past performers of the Book of Angels have included Ben Goldberg, Medeski, Martin & Wood, Koby Israelite and Marc Ribot.
Abraxas gets Psychomagia going early with “Metapsychomagia.” It’s raucous and powerful (though not off the rails Naked City style), but peek behind the Santana-goes-to-Tel Aviv vibe of the song and you’ll find some of Zorn’s compositional and arrangement genius at work; the song flows like a narrative with chapters invoking uncertainty, struggle and ultimately, triumph, with a Near Eastern mysticism pervading throughout. Zorn isn’t so much a control freak that he prevents the true characters of the musicians to flourish; the unique guitar personalities of Bajakian and Maoz find fertile ground on this and all of Zorn’s other songs.
Clearly, though, the musicians are being challenged by the material; the complexities of the compositions, the discreet modulations and the way the chords sound being as impactful as the chord selections could easily frustrate lesser musicians. “Celestial Mechanism” mashes together elements of math rock, heavy psychedelia and avant-jazz in such a manner that can’t just be happenstance even though the raw energy of a jam is present, too.
Sometimes there are collisions of noises that create dense thickets of metallic sounds but Zorn’s exotic strains punching through provides the intelligence to balance out the raw energy; that’s the appeal of a rowdy number like “Four Rivers.” Coming right after “Four Rivers” in the sequencing, “The Nameless is God” offers a gentle respite that showcases appealing and complementing spectral guitar expressions by Bajakian and Maoz and a brief dulcet turn by Blumenkranz.
By year’s end, John Zorn might have four or five more releases out but don’t overlook Psychomagia. There’s a good reason why he came back to Abraxas, who seem to grasp his boundless musical concept like few other musicians can.
S. Victor Aaron (courtesy of the Something Else! Reviews website)
Written by avant guru John Zorn and performed by prog-rock outfit Abraxas, Psychomagia reunites the compositional legend with the all-star performing cast of Zorn’s Book of Angels Vol. 19.
This time around, however, instead of drawing from his extensive body of Masada Book Two compositions, Zorn wrote an independent set of pieces (originally titled Metem Psycho Magia) as a tribute to 16th Century philosopher-friar-mathematician Giordano Bruno. If not moot, that distinction is rendered less immediately discernible thanks to the ferociously inventive attack that Abraxas brings to Zorn’s material.
Zorn’s work since embarking on his first 500 Masada compositions (Book One) has generally hewed towards overt Jewish and Middle Eastern shadings — which Abraxas practically throttled beyond recognition on Book of Angels Vol. 19. On Psychomagia, Abraxas delves further into a muscular, decidedly modern brand of experimental rock that at times sounds like a whirlwind collision of prog and fusion.
Occasionally, the band — leader / bassist / gimbri player Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz (Cyro Baptista, Pharaoh’s Daughter), guitarists Aram Bajakian (Lou Reed, Yusef Lateef) and Eyal Maoz (Edom, Dimyon), and drummer Kenny Grohowski (Secret Chiefs 3, Vernon Reid) — flirts with Italian Western motifs, but in general avoids lingering in any one stylistic space too long for clichés to set in. Meanwhile, Maoz and Bajakian weave their individual guitar squalls together like two storm clouds unleashing a downpour of sound at two different angles over a surging ocean of drums and bass — which is not at all to say that Abraxas isn’t adept at dynamics, quiet, or intricacy.
In fact, whatever preconceptions you may have about John Zorn, avant-garde music, or heavy rock, Abraxas shreds and re-assembles them in a most invigorating fashion.
Saby Reyes-Kulkarni (courtesy of the Alarm Magazine website)
John Zorn may have made a name for himself in the avant garde, but people forget what a hell of a rock tunesmith he is. Abraxas – guitarists Aram Bajakian and Eyal Maoz, bassist Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz and drummer Kenny Grohowski – have a new album, Psychomagia, out on Tzadik, which finds Zorn going off into noiserock and horror surf with the same kind of out-of-the-box tunefulness and assaultiveness as Beninghove’s Hangmen, or Big Lazy – or Morricone in his most acided-out back in the 60s, all filtered through the noisy prism of downtown NYC jazz. This being Zorn, some of his songs here are very through-composed, in other words, verses and choruses repeat less than you would expect from most surf bands. The result is both more elegant and more feral in places than even the mighty Dick Dale.
The opening track, Metapsychomagia, juxtaposes puckish wit with flickering menace, building from an uneasy bolero groove to a staggered Middle Eastern monster surf stomp, both guitarists ranging from lingering and twangy to frenetic and crazed, epic art-rock infused with swirling noise. Sacred Emblems is a Tex-Mex nocturne as Pink Floyd might have done it on Meddle, growing from a bittersweet Lee Hazelwood-flavored sway to southwestern gothic majesty. The band works a similar dynamic a little later on the considerably darker Squaring the Circle, a sort of Andalucian bolero surf number with a bracing Middle Eastern edge and unexpected dreampop echoes.
Circe is portrayed via a buzzing, squalling Raybeats-style stomp, the bass holding the center with burning low-register chords while the two guitars ride savage waves out into the maelstrom. Celestial Mechanism is closer to modern-day Balkan jazz than surf music, a shrieking, squalling two-chord vamp with the bass again holding the fort as the drums careen back and forth. Likewise, Four Rivers blends electric Balkan fusion with Israeli stoner metal over tumbling drums – it’s the noisiest thing on the album.
The Nameless God manages to be both the most opaquely indie-flavored and trad surf tune here, following a Ventures-in-space tangent over nebulously resonant, reverb-drenched guitars. The other two tracks here are the artsiest and arguably most interesting. Evocation of the Triumphant Beast is a genuinely evil creature, building from a macabre bolero over a stygian backdrop to searing, noisy postrock and then back with increasingly menacing flickers from the guitars. And Anima Mundi goes in the opposite direction, from an insistent danse macabre to a twinkly, clanging, serpentine guitar interlude that reminds of 70s psychedelic/art-rock legends Nektar. Throughout the album, the twin guitars sometimes wrestle, sometimes trade off gracefully, sometimes echo each other with a close yet dangerous chemistry that threatens to explode any second. On one hand, this album is so tuneful that fans of traditional surf music are going to love it; at the same time, it’s so deliciously evil in places that the most cynical Yo La Tengo diehards might be caught drooling.
delarue (courtesy of the New York Music Daily website)