More live recordings from the Month of Zorn, a run of concerts celebrating the iconoclastic altoist's 50th birthday, this one encoding two very different sets. The first series features duets with percussion dakini Susie Ibarra. Ibarra abandons the more measured performances of recent Tzadik CDs and returns to the firestorm approach from her days with the David S. Ware Quartet. While the Wadada Leo Smith duets cool out Zorn with no loss of daring, they seem to invigorate Smith. Only two tracks feature all three musicians.
Ibarra and Zorn have crossed paths many times in the New York Scene, and like Smith, she records for Zorn's label. Their familiarity breeds speed born of trust. Speed, not necessarily tempo, as reaction time. Their mercurial "Meridian bursts with sax blats and drum rolls, before a free, rolling momentum takes over. Mouthpiece textures and multiphonics bloom above cymbals and a tribal drum on "Rising Sign. Zorn unreels a long high line like a shenai. His flutter tongue squeak meets rattles and shakers, then Ibarra flies on the timeline again.
Rising from cymbal swirl, the alto plays an harmonic minor cry on "Spirit Writing. Switching to a relentless barrage of mallets, Ibarra cultivates the contrast with Zorn's melancholy song, which blows apart and joins the escalating drum dance. Alto skronk and roiling drums form a call and response on "By the Mark, Eight. Zorn blazes a course to the stratosphere, while Ibarra clocks many rhythms.
On "Ipsissimi Smith plays Zorn by initiating his series with a quick searing run. Zorn answers and they hold long tones. A long pause after a conversational segment, ends with unhurried interplay, bringing out the best in Zorn's tone. The long improvisation gives both players a wide canvas to develop ideas and chart new courses. Both try out numerous avenues of expression, always listening and responding to each other. "Ghost Writing allows Smith and Zorn their gentle contemplations, with Ibarra gracefully filling in the blanks. Smith and Zorn briefly increase their attack, but smooth brushwork from Ibarra invites them back to understatement.
Another Smith/Zorn duo, The Ascending Arc, features some astonishing sounds and space as a third member. "Full Fathom Five restores the trio with Smith unwinding lip bending runs with Ibarra adding economical punch. Zorn steps in at gale force, and all three blow for the joy of it.
Because the packaging builds the expectation, the only disappointment is the sparsity of trio work, although the brilliance of the duets quickly expose such thoughts as unreasonable greed.
Personnel: Wadada Leo Smith, trumpet; Susie Ibarra, percussion; John Zorn, alto sax.