Alhambra Love Songsby John Zorn
For a change, the descriptor insert included in a Tzadik release isn't all hype. Alhambra Love Songs does indeed contain "some of the most beautiful and soothing music Zorn has ever written." This 11-cut set is an eclectic homage of sorts to the San Francisco Bay area and the musicians who have and continue to make it their home. Written for a piano trio consisting of Rob Burger, bassist Greg Cohen (who alternates between upright and electric), and drummer Ben Perowsky, what's most important to remember when popping this into the deck is that these are indeed "songs." They all have direct melodic themes, lyric harmony, and follow a linear trajectory from one place to another. Zorn puts that in the listener's ears on the very first cut, "Mountain View," dedicated to Vince Guaraldi. It doesn't merely nod to the late pianist and composer of the Charlie Brown television themes, it evokes him directly, utilizing his sense of lithe, lyric theme and simple rhythmic sensibility in a hummable melody. It's delightful. "Pacifica," dedicated to mystic Harry Smith, is more elliptical and mysterious in presentation, but just as melodic and accessible. And that's the point. The Tzadik insert also namechecks Ramsey Lewis and Henry Mancini as well as the words "easy listening mode," but these influences aren't all that pronounced. But this doesn't fall into the category of one of Zorn's challenging series of recordings, either. It is simply a set of gorgeous songs with a variety of jazz, television, cinematic, and landscape themes written into their melodies, all dedicated to various musicians, composers, actors, poets, and other persona whom Zorn holds in high regard. Some may wonder initially if this fits in best with The Gift or Dreamers, and it sounds nothing like either recording. These tunes -- be it the tender "Half Moon Bay" dedicated to poet and translator Lyn Hejinian, or "Moraga," scored for Clint Eastwood, which evokes both his cinematic work as an actor and his work as a composer, or the ever so brief and utterly lovely "Miramar," for Terry Riley, which envelope the listener in pulsing rhythmic repetition before whispering itself out on the individual notes of its chords -- all have the same effect: one of complete listening pleasure. These small tunes will get inside your head and remain there, prompting you to listen to this set over and again. Each track is different from the last in theme, mood, and construction, but follows its thematic strategy almost to a fault. The band is fantastic. Burger's percussive touch on the keys is a plus. He never hits too hard, but he's a very rhythmic player. Add to this the brushwork of Perowsky and the always inventive, sensitive, and often subtle work of Cohen, and you have a unit that can swing when the tune calls for it, let a piece breathe, or playfully get inside it. Alhambra Love Songs is a gem, and will literally bring joy to anyone who gives it an honest listen.
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