Simulacrum is an album with music written and directed by composer, saxophonist John Zorn that features John Medeski (of Medeski, Martin, and Wood fame), Matt Hollenberg and Kenny Grohowski which was released on the Tzadik label in March 2015. John Zorn is a magpie of sorts. Sure he's respected in the improvised music industry but there's always been one problem about his music. Its all over the place. Sometimes he plays straight ahead jazz, sometimes free-jazz, sometimes rock and roll, sometimes pop, and here we have ourselves an instrumental heavy metal album, running at forty three minutes by an organist, guitarist, and drummer. I ain't complaining though. I dig this album very much. But why, you might ask?
Sure this album treads no new ground and doesn't do anything groundbreaking. But I find a certain amount of fun to the way these guys play on this record. The tunes sound heavily improvised to the untrained ear, but I bet a lot of it was written out by Zorn, after all he's a 'composer', right?
I first heard the album a year or so ago on YouTube, and about three days ago I bought the actual CD. I like it so much that I threw down thirteen bucks for it. The reason I like it is that the musicians here bring a sense of heightened adventure to progressive rock infused heavy metal jazz. Say what?
The music here encompasses mostly a jamming instrumental sensibility. Oftentimes the guitar takes the lead with distorted metal tropes. And then the organ takes over, leading the charge. The drummer stays away from stereotypical metal blast beat marathons, opting instead for jazzy fills on the snare, toms, and cymbals. The result is oddball jazz and blues sound, oddly enough. Not real blues or jazz, but a kind of white blues, jazz, more about experimental science than emotive sensibility. What the album succeeds at is creating a live open jam sort of environment. Like you're at the studio, watching them record it.
But this is a heavy metal kid's record. This isn't a jazz aficionado's album. If you're into Miles and Trane, this isn't your bag. However if you're into Slayer or Opeth then this is right up your alley. The guitar playing is very heavy, played with a good but oftentimes stereotypical metal guitar tone. There's not many single note solos from the guitarist, instead he performs as chordal accompaniment to the organ and drums. The organ takes up most of the single note melodies, and does a beautiful job doing so. The drums holds it all together with compelling rhythms, technically brilliant but not showing off and taking over the show entirely.
The album cover is one that reminds me of King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King, their first album from 1969. With song titles like Alterities, Snakes and Ladders, Paradigm Shift, and the Divine Comedy, there's a sense of intellectual curiosity and stimulation. The name simulacrum reminds me of Phillip K Dick, who had a novel called the Simulacra, check that out if you're into science fiction.
Its a musical curiosity really. And the music portrays this in its style and grace. There's so many musical changes, everything from time signature changes, to many different riffs, to what seems like spontaneous free improvisation. Its quite exciting to hear.
You can listen to the album on YouTube if you're curious enough to take the plunge into jazz influenced heavy metal.