A new John Zorn album brings a lot of excitement, anxiety, anticipation, and curiosity, because he has done so much, writes so often, and can cover everything from country and folk to holiday music and twisted jazz. For diehard fans, it’s not a surprise that an album with Zorn’s name may have little to no actual Zorn musical contributions, other than the songs being performed, and that’s the case here. For Templars: In Sacred Blood (Tzadik), Zorn has brought together Joey Baron (drums), Trevor Dunn (bass), John Medeski (organ), and Mike Patton (vocals) for an adventure that is described on Tzadik’s website as being a “testament-tribute to the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, the legendary crusading Warrior-Monks whose 200-year rise to power ended abruptly in 1307 under accusations of heresy.” It’s religious, it’s spiritual, it’s a folk tale, it’s history, but it becomes a twisted adventure when you put this material in the hands of Zorn, Patton, Medeski, Dunn, and Baron. All of this would make for a fairly wicked gothic film about the history of their crusades, as the music has all of the drama and power of the words being described, although in a way where you imagine Patton becoming each person/character, in his own unique way. The sacred is something Zorn has always used in his music, and what Medeski does by creating sounds perfect for churches and castles will give a few chills up the spine. Some of it, like the groove in “Murder Of The Magicians”, could be adapted for a police crime TV show or film, but knowing how these musicians work individually and with one another, you don’t know when the sacred will mix with hatred will mix with metal will mix with jazz will mix with classical.
While one doesn’t have to follow the script of the album in a processing fashion, it should be listened to the way it was created/intended for full impact. This album proves to me once again why Patton is one of the greatest vocalists of the last 25 years, and why Medeski can do no wrong with any of the projects he has done in the last two decades. Dunn and Baron work great together and to add this to their already exhaustive discography will make their fans quite happy. It may seem like Zorn works without limits, but within the limitations he may create for each project comes the knowledge that he has created a piece of work that will be examined and explored for years to come.