AMN Reviews: John Zorn – Spinoza (2022; Tzadik)

Spinoza is the latest effort from John Zorn’s organ-metal trio Simulacrum. It features two long tracks, Immanence showcasing guitarist Bill Frisell and the title track as a vehicle for Zorn himself. It is easy to lose count, but this is probably the 10th or so release for Simulacrum, the outfit consisting of John Medeski on organ and technical-metal wizards Kenny Grohowski and Matt Hollenberg on drums and electric guitar, respectively.

Immanence keeps with the general Simulacrum style that has developed since their first release in 2015. Complex riffing and runs are punctuated by chaotic breaks and softer interludes. Frisell is prominent in the latter, his undistorted electric taking on bluesy or Americana tones that contrast with the distorted blasts of energy from Hollenberg. In particular, Frisell and Medeski accompany one another with a notable sensitivity. Even in the more energetic passages where Frisell employs distortion, he maintains a distinct spikiness harkening to jazz and rock rather than extreme metal.

Spinoza begins with Zorn’s signature disjointed lines, including a long, piercing high-pitched blast that is joined by heaviness from Medeski, Grohowski, and Hollenberg. The track is a vehicle for soloing, with Zorn, Medeski, and Hollenberg trading leads. Not unexpectedly, Zorn’s contributions are outside the lines and include harsh fragments. When the tempo slows, Zorn’s playing tames but remains edgy. Where Spinoza shines, however, is when Zorn relents a bit and engages in a soaring solo over a pounding metal riff structure from his bandmates.

As on many Zorn releases, you will hear bits and pieces repeated from previous recordings among the many jump cuts. These quotes lend a degree of familiarity, as the majority if not all Simulacrum pieces form a family of lively and twisted tunes. And what a family it is.

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