Review: Pat Metheny - Tap: John Zorn's Book Of Angels Vol. 20

A vital, demanding, fascinating record...
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Geography, maps, legends, and time are the fabric and seams of jazz great Pat Metheny's exhilarating new album. The songs from this album are the work of renown composer John Zorn, who began work on a vast collection of songs inspired by Jewish music, tradition, and history known as the Masada Songbook. Numerous songs from that collection -- there are well over 300 of them -- have been recorded by dozens of artists and now Metheny has harnessed his daring, virtuosity, and imagination to tackle six previously unattempted titles for Tap: John Zorn's Book Of Angels Vol. 20

When we say art moves us, we often refer to it as an internal experience where our spirit is stirred and our mind confronted, challenged, comforted, or engaged. Tap moves us in those same ways but also brings with it the experience of motion as its songs and sounds carry us to places most of us have never been, to times we couldn't possibly have lived in. Metheny is fucking with us when it comes to that dimension of time, achieving what seems impossible. He creates passages that sound ancient preceded or followed by a futuristic one and ingeniously makes it feel both jarring and natural.

"Mastema" quickly immerses us in this world with layers of guitar and sitar guitar and the excursion is under way as he introduces the first melodic passage through improvisation before bass guitar and Antonio Sanchez's drums are folded into the mix. Metheny quickly turns the traditional on its head with a little rock-styled shredding on a heavily distorted electric guitar. He takes a breath and allows a mystical keyboard passage to cool the hot sounds before diving back into the essential elements of the composition.

"Albim" opens with classical-styled acoustic guitars, gently picked and strummed. Metheny is patient during the lovely, improvised prelude, slowly shifting to the Zorn-composed portion. Where "Mastema" was bold and busy, "Albim" is a softer, more delicate delight. Metheny gave us noise on "Mastema" and now demonstrates the nuanced, lyrical side of his lead work.

"Tharsis" and "Sariel" are perhaps the best illustrations of Metheny's masterful blending of modern and ancient sounds and styles. "Tharsis" opens as an adventurous musical chase through time. "Sariel" is another exercise in patience, the story unfolding in long form. The electric guitar work snarls and soars and then the song resets itself at the midpoint, allowing us to catch our breath before it relaunches, and cascades to a two-minute mess of unstructured noise.

The music of Tap is intimate and huge, at times sounding like the work of a musical army, but is actually a three-man work product: Zorn wrote the material and it is performed by Metheny who plays a dozen instruments over the course of the record and drummer/percussionist Sanchez, a frequent Metheny collaborator.

Some artists would be intimidated at the prospect of taking on the work of a master composer who wrote songs with a foundation from another time and culture but Metheny has never backed down from a challenge in his storied career. He obliterates any real or imagined obstacles, producing a vital, demanding, fascinating record.