Sunday, February 21, 2016

PainKiller: The Prophecy

This mindblowing release appears to be something of a cousin to another recent Tzadik (John Zorn's label) release, Massacre's Love Me Tender (2013).

Love Me Tender, featuring Charles Heyward on drums, Bill Laswell on bass and Fred Frith on guitar, was a pastiche of live recordings in Europe edited by Frith and which shows the improvising power trio in a wide variety of aural settings, though dominated by Frith's remarkable fret work.

Similarly, The Prophecy, which came out in 2013, as well, is also a compilation of European live performances by a power trio, with Laswell joined by drummer Yoshida Tatsuya, best known from the Japanese band Ruins, in support of Zorn's wailing, screaming and probing alto sax.  As with Frith on the other recording, Zorn is the primary figure here and for fans, he delivers all of the great playing expected of the master.

But, although he is the front man, as Frith was for Massacre, the value of rhythm section should not be understated.  Laswell is not just a phenomenal bass player who can keep the bottom held down in support of soloists as well as anyone, but he can instantly switch with an array of pedals to a fuzztone, move into heavy and deep dub playing, morph into something like an electric guitarist, and throw in the riff from Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" seamlessly into the mix.

As for Tatusya, he is the third drummer to work with Zorn and Laswell as part of the PainKiller project.  Founding member Mick Harris, formerly of Napalm Death, was the (or one of the) creators of the "blast beat," and his playing was largely limited to the range of percussion he worked with in the grindcore world.  In fact, it has been said his sense of inadequacy when playing with the likes of Zorn and Laswell led him to forego drumming to move into electronics.

The great Hamid Drake, who mainly has played in the jazz realm, turned in an excellent performance in 2003's live recording for Zorn's 50th birthday celebrations.  His training gave a flexibility, variety and fluidity that notably transformed the sound.

With Tatsuya, there is something of a combination.  More or less a rock drummer, but with a wider range than Harris, if not as nimble and elastic as Drake, he turns in a very solid performance and meshes well with Laswell, while providing a solid foundation behind Zorn.  Tatsuya is given several minutes to solo and turns in a fine one.

The brief note on the OBI strip doesn't suggest this, but reviews indicate that The Prophecy might be viewed as a summary statement on the PainKiller project.  It is true that the last gig of the band was in Paris in 2008, when Harris surprisingly turned up to play drums and longtime Zorn collaborator Mike Patton contributed the screaming vocals Harris used to deliver in the early days.

Whether this album is the final word from PainKiller or not, it is another fantastic improvisational journey with Zorn and Laswell, with Tatsuya doing an excellent job.  A word has to be said about the crystalline engineering job by Oz Fritz, who has done a great deal of work with Laswell over the years, and makes the sound as good as can be obtained from a live gig.  Finally, Heung-Heung Chin's gorgeous artwork, a trademark of Zorn's Tazdik label, is worthy of noting, including the use of the photographic subjects of bones, teeth and the like, which are typically PainKiller-like.

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