Pat Metheny/Tap ‘John Zorn’s Book of Angels Vol. 20’ (Nonesuch) 4/5

One could never accuse Pat Metheny of sticking to the same routine so it should comes as little surprise, then, his latest project is devoted to left-field maverick musician John Zorn who simply defies categorisation and has a legion of fans because of it. Metheny just happens to be one of those devotees and has focused on some of the more folk-based compositions in Zorn’s vast songbook which are linked to the composer’s Jewish roots. He is ably assisted in the project by drummer Antonio Sanchez, but as on other recent recordings, the leader is not content to perform solely on his impressive selection of his master guitars. Rather he turns up playing at various times on trumpet, keyboards and even piano, though it has to be said that these musical forays are brief and that long-time fans will marvel at the guitar soloing which is as accomplished as it ever has been. The repertoire focuses primarily on the more folk-oriented side to Zorn’s compositions (with the possible exception of the rousing opener ‘Mastema’) and as such is deal terrain for Metheny to exploit. The engaging and intricate riff-laden uptempo number ‘Tharsis’ is notable for some fine polyrhythmic accompaniment from Sanchez while there is a pan-Mediterranean feel to ‘Albim’ which has a reposing quality to it, and Metheny here performs mainly on acoustic guitar. Even more intimate in ambience is ‘Sariel’ which features some sparse acoustic guitar and the simplest of riffs, yet highly effective at that. Elsewhere Pat Metheny excels on the free-flowing numbers such as ‘Humiz’ on which he also alternates on piano. For those not conversant with the eclecticism of John Zorn, his multi-directional musical stance takes on board easy listening, film score music, Jewish jazz, jazzcore hybrids and a whole lot more. This simply reflects Zorn’s own incredibly diverse influences which range from Ennio Morricone and Esquivel to Roland Kirk, Lennie Tristano and even Hüsker Dü. John Zorn’s music has constantly oscillated between outright eccentricity and top quality, but in the process the composer/musician has cultivated a faithful band of followers. This is another side project that Pat Metheny can proudly add to his already mightily impressive portfolio that includes duets with Ornette Coleman, Charlie Haden and Brad Mehldau not to mention the fascinating mellotron experiment. An artist in full creative flow at present. Tim Stenhouse