John Zorn – The Fourth Way (Tzadik)

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It can be pretty difficult to keep up with the myriad of New York composer John Zorn’s releases. For example in the month of March 2023 he released three albums. This is one of them.

The Fourth Way was inspired by the thoughts and writings of philosopher and at times composer Georges Gurdjieff The title comes from his notion of the three schools, linked to religion and stemming from all of the ‘ism’s Buddhism, Christianity, Sufism, Hinduism, etc. The first school relates to the body, the second the emotions, the third the mind, and then there’s the fourth, which he referred to as the work. It is designed to develop unity in the human being, and comes from dissatisfaction with the traditional 3 ways. It’s strangely amorphous, there are no institutions attached to it, and it disappears when the work is finished – as to preserve it would be to diminish its spirit.

It probably makes sense that Zorn would be attracted to the ideas and metaphors expressed by Gurdjieff, as there are real links to his restless musical explorations, utilising everything from cartoon music to death metal in his arsenal, yet processing them and synthesizing them into his own unique style. It’s an uncompromising and genuine search, much like the followers of Gurdjieff, who despite the lack of a blueprint know that the fourth way is out there…somewhere. And this has always felt like where Zorn exists and what he is searching for.

This is a piano led trio, Brian Marsella (piano), Jorge Roeder (bass), and Ches Smith (drums), and it truly runs the gamut of styles, from the frenetic highly textural, to the reassuringly melodic, from ballads to asteroid showers, from jazz to the outer reaches – often within the same song. They travel over a ridiculous amount of terrain. Not everyone can play this music, the musicians here are at the top of their game and it all feels incredibly unified, even when stopping and starting abruptly or taking an abrupt right turn. It’s nothing short of sublime.

As a composition there’s a real fascinating mix of music and what you might call Zornism’s – that require not only the most dexterous of musical ability, but also an open mind. Gurdjieff was also a composer and track titles reflect some of his compositions, referencing without covering, remaining very much in Zorn’s style. ‘Journey To Inaccessible Places’, is a case in point, whilst the track ‘Meeting’s With Remarkable Men’ references Gurdjieff’s 1963 novel.

It’s typically dense and obtuse as much of Zorn’s work, yet there are many entry points, from the remarkable dexterity of the players to the more musical elements, to the reference points to Gurdjieff. The Fourth Way demonstrates once again that Zorn continues to look forward, press ahead and search for something new.

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Bob is the features editor of Cyclic Defrost. He is also evil. You should not trust the opinions of evil people.

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