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John Zorn and Bill Laswell: The Cleansing


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John Zorn and Bill Laswell: The Cleansing
The Cleansing represents a meeting between two titans of contemporary music—composer and saxophonist John Zorn, and bassist and composer Bill Laswell. Both have spent over forty years camped out in spaces between avant-garde, experimental, jazz, improv, psychedelia, noise and ambient, each having created immersive, forward-thinking, sometimes brutal, and colorful music worlds. They have been pushing the boundaries of the possible for a long time; their almost single-minded commitment has made them leading figures in a broad range of contemporary musics and, so, thrillingly underlies this performance. Both musicians have long embodied the idea of "live inspiration" or improvisation as a means of creation; as a result, all of their previous musical associations have been difficult to summarize with certainty. Zorn and Laswell have been working their chemistry over the last couple of decades in various undertakings. They had been friends since the late '70s and they worked in the same avant-garde circles. Probably their finest collaboration is the Painkiller hardcore power trio which was inspired by their love of Japanese hardcore music. The Cleansing is a set of terrific, studio-recorded improvisations that were captured in early 2021 when the year-long lockdown was lifted.

All six tunes on this set run together, like a stream-of-conscious revue. All of them were named after renowned cult writers who dabbled with the occult (Crowly, Jodorowsky, Burroughs...). This music is not a serene musical experience and that is probably for the best. As the liner notes tell, the cleansing referred to the rejuvenation process which occurred during the performance for both artists, who were previously isolated during the lockdown. John Zorn, for an instance, had not picked up his saxophone in over fifteen months prior to the occasion and Laswell was isolated in his studio mostly. The resulting music is raw, gestural. Despite the all improv setting, there is a sense of narrative and of forward motion. From the very start, it is evident that the duo has developed a deep musical understanding of each other. The way they interact indicates that they are listening to one another and responding. The opening track "Brion Gysin" brings out the spontaneous best in each of them. It is a quiet and fragile track where Zorn seems to channel Pharaoh Sanders. By the end, he throws in an alarming shriek to which Laswell responds with sympathetic scrapes and harmonics. From that moment, a shift occurs on the other tracks and from lyrical tune-like figures it turns into exclamatory growls and exhalations.

The unrefined beauty of this performance lies in its unexpectedly free-flowing nature. Both artists use their instruments in the most unconventional ways, always expanding, always exploring but, in the end, they both manage to make it sound completely natural. Laswell provides colorful and deep bass notes and lines which are as fluid as a current, and float in and out in the distance. As the performance progresses, Zorn's phonics float all around in intensity, and the pulse grows more intense. At times, it is overwhelming in its intensity. The music is raw, direct, sincere, but it is the duo's collective purpose which stands out the most.

Track Listing

Brion Gysin; Aleister Crowley; Austin Osman Spare; William Burroughs; Alejandro Jodorowsky; The Cleansing


John Zorn
saxophone, alto
Additional Instrumentation

John Zorn: saxophone; Bill Laswell: bass

Album information

Title: The Cleansing | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Tzadik



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