AMN Reviews: John Zorn – Heaven and Earth Magick (2021; Tzadik)

Heaven and Earth Magick is a new set of group pieces composed by John Zorn and performed by the quartet of Jorge Roeder on bass, Ches Smith on drums, Stephen Gosling on piano, and Sae Hashimoto on vibraphone. As usual, Zorn does not stick to genre, and blends jazz, chamber music, and a bit of avant-rock across six tracks in the 8-10 minute range.

Of course, given Zorn’s penchant for stringing together short, bursty themes and motifs, each of these tracks could be divided up into a number of distinct constituent passages with different melodies and rhythms. But what ties them together is their knotty complexity, jagged structure, and constantly shifting tempos. The result is outside jazz punctuated by moments of swirling chaos, and the division into tracks seems arbitrary.

But there is a subtle difference between Heaven and Earth Magick and most modern creative music. Zorn composed – wrote out – the score for Gosling and Hashimoto, but instructed Roeder and Smith to improvise their parts. If anything this adds to the unpredictability of the pieces. And unpredictable they are. At one moment, there is staccato piano over freely-improvised drumming, and the next is an abbreviated mainstream-leaning jazz melody that morphs into a set of loose but labyrinthine lines.

If you have followed Zorn for, say, the last 10-20 years, you might hear a few moments that sound familiar. He does repeat himself between albums and also explores variations on older themes. But doing so only adds to the charm of this release, and in any event only lasts for very short durations.

Ultimately, this is another solid and compelling album from a living legend who does not give you time to get bored or even comfortable. Well done.