Morrow vs. Hajduch: John Zorn’s Ipsissimus

Scott Morrow is ALARM’s music editor. Patrick Hajduch is a very important lawyer. Each week they debate the merits of a different album.

John Zorn: IpsissimusJohn Zorn: Ipsissimus (Tzadik, 10/5/10)

John Zorn: “Warlock”
[audio:|titles=John Zorn: “Warlock”]

Morrow: In 2006, indefatigable composer John Zorn launched another of his countless ensembles — Moonchild, a sludgy power trio built around vocalist Mike Patton, bassist Trevor Dunn, and drummer Joey Baron.  In the four albums that began with Moonchild: Songs without Words, Zorn has used the group to explore heavy and spastic improvisations amid composed riffs and directed song structures.

The lineup has expanded a bit for a few releases, but that wild trio is the group’s heart, with Patton offering wordless shrieks, chants, and vocal spasms over Dunn and Baron’s distorted notes and progressive rhythms.  Ipsissimus is the group’s fifth release in less than five years, and it’s the first to prominently feature the guitar work of Marc Ribot, who appeared on one track of the 2008 release The Crucible.

Hajduch: In description, this sounds like a whole lot of John Zorn’s projects (in the case of Naked City, you sub out Mike Patton and add Yamantaka Eye of Boredoms, but the description still fits to an extent).  In practice, it’s very different.  Patton feels extraneous to an extent — like Attila Csihar‘s work with Mayhem, it can seem sort of like there is just this guy, making noises.  But also like Attila/Mayhem, there are moments where it just fits perfectly and feels exactly right.

The other notable thing about the music here is how fluid Baron’s drum work is.  He slips from push beats to half-time to triads in a way that doesn’t seem wanky or ridiculous, but that shifts the groove of the music seismically.  There are also moments where Patton’s shriek and Zorn’s bleat are near-indistinguishable, which brings to mind some sort of terrifying Mike Patton-with-saxophone-head chimera nightmare — a walking saxophone with slicked-back hair that is way shorter in person than you imagined.

Morrow: I hear what you’re saying about Patton, but I wouldn’t say that he’s superfluous.  I think that because much of what he’s doing is improvised and wordless, you can get that feeling of “oh, I’ve heard this before.”  But yeah, there are moments when he fits perfectly with what’s happening, like on the nearly Native American chants and wispy falsettos of “The Book of Los” (which, again, precede total vocal freak-outs).

Ribot’s guitar plays a key role in broadening the Moonchild palette here, even if it’s not as diversified as on Six Litanies for Heliogabalus, which utilized keyboardist Jamie Saft, electronics maven Ikue Mori, and a handful of vocalists.  But Ribot’s skills can’t be understated, and it’s nice to hear a little high-end complement to Dunn’s mammoth bass notes.

Hajduch: Ribot’s guitar work is illuminating and adds a lot to these songs.  He’s comfortable with a more dissonant style that slots nicely between Zorn and Patton and the more melodic, understated playing that he’s used with Electric Masada.  Maybe “superfluous” was the wrong word for Patton’s contributions — they often fit in nicely enough — but sometimes they’re ridiculous enough that they completely distract from the music as a whole.

Overall, Ipsissimus is a great listen, threading many of Zorn’s seemingly disparate sounds together and showcasing some excellent performances (Dunn’s bass workout “The Changeling” is huge).  And if you like a more dissonant take on modern music, you’d be wise to give it a listen.

Morrow: Definitely, and after Six Litanies for Heliogabalus, which offered a little more variety, this might be my favorite Moonchild release.  But we should put that big “experimental” disclaimer on this, because it’s not for the faint of heart.

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