John Zorn explores heavy, precise rock music in Simulacrum, and will play with the trio in Chicago | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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John Zorn explores heavy, precise rock music in Simulacrum, and will play with the trio in Chicago

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Back in the late 80s, John Zorn famously crammed many of his disparate musical interests into the work of a single ensemble. His quintet Naked City embodied his rapid-cut aesthetic; every couple of bars the ensemble abruptly and precisely switched tone and style, communicating a short-attention-span ethos that foreshadowed the age of information overload. In recent decades he’s expanded his work as a composer, writing music to address specific styles including extreme rock music, hardcore, and prog. During a two-year burst from 2015 to 2016 he composed enough music for Simulacrum, a trio with organist John Medeski, guitarist Matt Hollenberg (Cleric), and drummer Kenny Grohowski, to fill six albums—mashing up bits of heavy metal, prog, and the jazz fusion sound of Tony Williams’s Lifetime with guitarist John McLaughlin into a brutal but virtuosic high-velocity attack. Various guests have appeared on Simulacrum albums; on last year’s The Garden of Earthly Delights electric bassist Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle) added serious low end in tightly registered unison passages with Hollenberg, and improvising vocalist Sara Serpa occasionally contributed ethereal countermelodies. Though the tone of Simulacrum significantly shifts from recording to recording, and sometimes enfolds different ingredients from surf music to Morricone-esque soundscapes, the rigor at its core remains indisputable. These days Zorn generally prefers writing music for hand-picked ensembles like this one rather than performing it himself, but for this rare event he’ll join the trio for part of the set.   v

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