Friday, June 5, 2020
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Artist: Gnostic Trio
Title: John Zorn - Masada Book 3 - The Book Beri'ah Vol. 7: Gnostic Trio - Netzach
Format: CD
Label: Tzadik
The Book Beri’ah Vol. 7: Gnostic Trio - Netzach

This is the fourth album recorded by Gnostic Trio, made up of harpist Carol Emanuel, guitarist Bill Frisell and Kenny Wollesen on vibraphone and bells. At this point, the trio sounds like they’ve been a unit for decades, whereas in reality, they do not play together all that often. It is a testament to the skill of the players, the quality of the compositions and the skill of the recording engineer that the performances are so seamless and riveting.
Many of the pieces are arranged in such a way that the harp and the vibraphone keep a cyclical rhythm going, which build or stay relatively the same, while the guitar is out front following the theme laid out by the vibes and harp but also throwing in melody at angles and introducing tension through bits of atonality. Yet there are also some pieces in which the guitar is keeping the rhythm while Wollesen on vibraphone and Emanuel on harp provide the lead lines. Frisell on guitar nevertheless can usually be heard getting some time in the spotlight, and I can only guess that the reason for this may be due to Zorn understanding that the guitar has the greatest breadth and depth of tone and sonic possibility.
The album has an overall ethereally haunting, somewhat somber quality, due to both the harp and the general guitar tone throughout. The vibraphone certainly adds to this through choice of notes. Whether or not Zorn had these pieces in mind for this trio I can’t say, but it seems as though they were written specifically for these three. I think it’s more likely that he wrote the pieces with an open framework, more so than some of the other Book of Beri’ah compositions, and the three players were able to develop these arrangements through their own study of the music and each other.
With Marc Urselli once again at the controls, capturing the performances, there is at once both an intimacy as well as an openness to the sound. Certainly, at this point Urselli knows exactly what Zorn is hoping for from a recording of this trio and he has certain microphones, pieces of gear and parameters within that gear that will ensure he gets what he wants. It’s obvious that he hears, in his head, what he wants the finished recording to sound like and makes the necessary preparations in order to capture it. The mastering work by Scott Hull has given the past 15 to 20 years of Zorn’s output (and more of Tzadik’s offering beyond Zorn) a level of consistency and even familiarity that I think would be hard to match.