“Invitation to a Suicide”: A guide to John Zorn

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Sordel, Mar 31, 2021.

  1. Jeff Kent

    Jeff Kent Forum Resident

    Location:
    Mt. Kisco, NY
    I only got to see Cobra done twice, but once was with Zorn prompting and one was with him playing. My wife went with me to one of them and she HATES Zorn, but had fun at Cobra because it's so theatrical and energetic.
     
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  2. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    Ha, I looked earlier and couldn't see the date because it's under the disc! FWIW the Masada World site gives the date as September 12th without comment on the discrepancy. (Not that knowing the exact date matters of course.)
     
  3. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    John Zorn: The Hermetic Organ Vol. 3 - St Paul's Hall, Huddersfield
    [​IMG]

    Genre: Pipe Organ Improvisation
    Label & Year of Release: Recorded 2013, released on Tzadik, 2015
    Categories: Scares the Horses/Relaxed
    My Rating: 3/10

    Personnel
    John Zorn, Organ​
    1. “The Fall of Satan”. The first three minutes or so of the improvisation are fairly noisy with audible sound from what I think is the compressor that feeds the organ. Then it becomes very still & quiet with a soft pulse in the low register and high, whistling notes playing over that. Zorn comments in the liner notes that these is a vibrato control on this particular organ that is usually set and left where it is but you can hear him using this like a pedal during this quiet section. There is a passage with clarion fourths from ten minutes in, then a noisier, more chaotic section after that that rises to climax on an unresolved chord.
    2. “Spectral Angels”. Hesitant notes become a consonant arpeggio then a held chord over which Zorn improvises using Eastern scales. About three and half minutes in you briefly hear resolute, triumphant chords before the Eastern mood is recaptured. For about the last minute (of ten) you hear a clamour of victorious noise threatening to break through, then silence.
    3. “The Revelation of St. John”. Hesitation again, a succession of single notes including some low, brassy notes that gather pace and become almost a bestial chatter that is heard throughout the first half of this piece. About six minute in we go back to sporadic notes with a sense of serenity that is not shaken by occasional low notes. The bell sounds of what I take to be a carillon are heard. The piece ends on a mellow C#.
    I attended this free concert which took place round about 11pm at the end of a day-long programme of Zorn's work. I'm not personally an organ fan and I struggle to tell one stop from another, meaning that I doubtless miss many subtleties in what the organist is doing here. That said, I've heard enough organ music (particularly Messiaen) to have some sense of the compositional approach, and I'm not sure that we get much of that with Zorn: he enjoys the sonic possibilities and having such power at his fingertips, but musically it is rather devoid of interest.
     
  4. Jeff Kent

    Jeff Kent Forum Resident

    Location:
    Mt. Kisco, NY
    Zorn has a reputation of being...difficult...especially when it comes to the press. That said, this 'interview' from 2007 was surprisingly informative and he seemed eager to explain his creative process to the small audience. At one point he even passes around his notebooks with his compositional sketches in them. Well worth watching if you have the time.

     
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  5. Rosskolnikov

    Rosskolnikov Designated Cloud Yeller

    I happened to be in Paris about 13 years ago when there was a sort of multi-night "John Zorn Fest" going on at Cite de la Musique. The evening I was in town, he had the Dreamers group playing. This was John conducting and players were Joey Baron, Trevor Dunn, Kenny Wolleson, Jamie Saft, Cyro Baptista, and Marc Ribot. Needless to say, I got right online and acquired a ticket. It was truly remarkable. And with Zorn conducting, the music had a kind of dynamics that you don't often hear from a leaderless ensemble of that size. And yet, he gave each player a chance to shine. It was one of the 3 or 4 best evenings of musique that I have ever experienced. Truly wonderful.

    And here's and excerpt:



    I speak a little French but not enough to be really conversational. Fortunately, there was a pretty nice French guy and his wife seated next to me. He spoke enough English to talk just a little during a short intermission. We were talking about how amazing it was that we could witness a show like that, with that much talent on stage, and with us being from different countries, too. It was one of those occasional moments where music is a true uniting force. I could feel it in the room.
     
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  6. Jeff Kent

    Jeff Kent Forum Resident

    Location:
    Mt. Kisco, NY
  7. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    I was there for three nights of that series: that's where I go bitten by the bug to see Zorn live.
     
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  8. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    Naked City: Naked City
    [​IMG]

    Genre: Hardcore
    Label & Date of Release: Recorded 1989, released on Elektra Nonsuch, 1990
    Categories: Mostly Scares The Horses
    My Rating: 4/10

    Personnel
    John Zorn, Alto Sax
    Bill Frisell, Electric Guitar
    Wayne Horvitz, Keyboards
    Fred Frith, Bass
    Joey Baron, Drums
    Yamataka Eye, Vocals​
    1. “Batman”. Not actually the Batman theme although it sounds rather like it.
    2. “The Sicilian Clan”. A Morricone movie theme played comparatively straight.
    3. “You Will Be Shot”. Quintessential hardcore miniature. A guitar riff provides the main theme while rapid stick-work from Baron cues genre jump-cuts.
    4. “Latin Quarter”. New Orleans Jazz. More or less straight for the first three minutes although Zorn himself does get noisy at times. Then a series of gear switches, but nothing jarring.
    5. “A Shot In The Dark”. Chaos for nearly a minute then the Mancini movie theme is played more or less straight.
    6. “Reanimator”. Noise and fury, sax, chaos, thunderous drums, then Noir pastiche for most of the track.
    7. “Snagglepuss”. Chaos, funk, chaos, piano, raucous Jazz, drums, sax, lounge, fury, game, sleaze, drums, lounge Jazz, game, fury, fast Jazz.
    8. “I Want To Live”. Composed by Johnny Mandel. Sleazy sax on Noir pastiche.
    9. “Lonely Woman”. Ornette Coleman head given a Peter Gunn-esque backing to produce a TV theme.
    10. “Igneous Ej*cul*tion” Who knew that the auto-censor would have a problem with that word? [For the next few tracks (less than four minutes in total) we get a lot of Yamataka Eye vocalising over fury & chaos with very brief genre suggestions.]
    11. “Blood Duster”.
    12. “Hammerhead”.
    13. “Demon Sanctuary”.
    14. “Obeah Man”.
    15. “Ujaku”
    16. “F*** The Facts”.
    17. “Speedball”.
    18. “Chinatown”. A mysterious, still soundscape of guitars and keyboards for about two minutes then a creamy, idiomatic performance of Goldsmith's theme on sax
    19. “Punk China Doll”. Fury, aggression, angular guitar, double-speed, chaos, wild piano, shrieking sax, then atmospheric stasis with bluesy guitar
    20. “N. Y. Flat Top Box”. Fun hardcore piece thanks to the use of a jaunty C&W theme.
    21. “Saigon Pickup”. Another fun hardcore piece: a cinematic piano arpeggio then Orientalism, skiffle, arpeggio, rapidly shifting genres, dub with organ, R’n’R sax, screaming sax, arpeggio with wheezing sax.
    22. “The James Bond Theme”. Played more or less straight with sound effects and moments of chaos.
    23. “Den of Sins”. Fury.
    24. “Contempt”. A keyboard plays the rather striking Georges Delarue theme in the background with wailing sax in the foreground.
    25. “Graveyard Shift”. Hard rock with a driving beat, chaos with sax, funk, dub with sleazy sax to fade, game, meltdown, moody keyboard strings.
    26. “Inside Straight”. Game, then honest-to-goodness Jazz.
    All the Naked City albums were re-issued as a boxed set on Tzadik and that's where I'm listening to this album. That set is currently unavailable, so should you be upset about that? Well, probably not because it was badly remastered with notably lower dynamic range and a couple of discs have distortion on them. The original discs will be the collector's pick here.

    Zorn “made his name” with albums released on Elektra Nonsuch during the 1980s: especially The Big Gundown and this one. (It doesn't seem coincidental that his biggest cultural impact coincided with appearing on a major label.) Both are in part attention-grabbing headscratchers which people either immediately liked or professed to like because it was the latest hipster fad. I of course bought both at the time, probably ensuring by doing so that I would listen to no more Zorn for more than a decade afterwards! Obviously given its “importance” a listener should pick this up at some point ... but make that point later rather than sooner.

    With a perspective of time this is an interesting album to come back to (I listen to it very little). I tend to remember everything about it that makes it a hard listen, particularly the Yamataka Eye sequence which I think is absolutely awful, though actually accounts for little of the running time. There's more “music” here than I remember and chaotic sections often introduce longer genre pieces that are not particularly taxing.

    That said, you definitely get too much of Zorn's sax shrieking for effect on this album. It's a hard 55 minutes and I really can't recommend that Zorn novices check it out just so they can undergo the rite of passage.
     
  9. JSUB

    JSUB Forum Resident

    Location:
    Louisville, KY
    Naked City was my first JZ purchase based upon a 1990 year end top 10 list in Rolling Stone where Mike Patton of Faith No More described it as flipping the radio dial. I was hooked and have been onboard ever since. Love the mash-up of genres and the napalm blasts dropped unexpectedly within the songs. For me this is 10/10.
     
  10. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    I'll be interested to see where we all are with this album after thirty years. It's not (even) my favourite Naked City disc.
     
  11. JSUB

    JSUB Forum Resident

    Location:
    Louisville, KY
    Leng Tch'e is actually my favorite NC disc - love the tension that builds for the first 15 minutes then the release with the sax & vocals (screams). Radio is a close 2nd but that one is much almost like Naked City part 2. I know lots of people love Absinthe but I listened to that one again recently and it still hasn't clicked with me.

    I wish more live NC would be released, he teased us back in 2002 with the Knitting Factory 1989 release being labeled Live Volume 1, but nothing since. Also speaking of live, that 40th Birthday Fest that was posted about previously, I recall an article in Alternative Press at the time that Zorn allowed the Knitting Factory to record all the shows and there were plans for some releases - again something that never happened unfortunately. Not the professional recordings, but several of the NC sets from the 40th have turned up.
     
  12. Jeff Kent

    Jeff Kent Forum Resident

    Location:
    Mt. Kisco, NY
    It's possible that the shows were recorded. He never mentioned it on stage. I downloaded a couple sets a few years ago. I think it was the Naked City show where in between songs he could hear some country music being played in the bar downstairs. He made a very tongue in cheek comment about 'quieting down down there, we're trying to make music!' I think they did two sets every night and the last se on the last night was all requests. On the way up the stairs to the performance space there was a notebook where you could write requests. I bought a shirt at the show that has long since fallen apart. One day walking on the upper West side I saw a man with two small kids wearing the same Naked City shirt, I thought I was seeing things.
     
  13. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    Despite my admonitions about Eye I expect that it'll turn out to be mine as well but I may be surprised eventually as I work through them. It'll be a turn-up for the books if my favourite disc by a band famous for performing very short tracks is ... the longest track they recorded.
     
  14. rodrigosanche55

    rodrigosanche55 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Madrid, Spain
    Naked City was my first entry point into Zorn, at the same time as Masada, around 2003. That's a 10/10 for me!
    I also love the first Gnostic trio, another 10/10. I love Zorn's range, that's the reason I keep up with his monthly output.
    Currently listening to Bagatelles, only the Halvorson disc does it for me.
    And Heaven & Earth, which I find superb as most his classical oriented releases.
     
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  15. Jeff Kent

    Jeff Kent Forum Resident

    Location:
    Mt. Kisco, NY
    I took a friend to see the Masada String Trio back when they first started. We were waiting to go into the main room at the Knitting Factory (Leonard St.) and Zorn was standing at the top of the stairs that go into the little balcony. My friend did a double take and said, 'THAT'S Zorn? That little unassuming guy is responsible for all of that crazy music?!"

    That night Zorn sat on the floor among the trio and conducted by pointing, laughing and occasionally falling over. Good times.
     
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  16. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    Painkiller: Guts of a Virgin/Buried Secrets/Marianne
    [​IMG]

    Genre: Grindcore/Metal/Dub
    Label & Year of Release: Earache, 1991 & 1992
    Categories: Scares the Horses
    My Rating: 2/10

    Personnel:
    John Zorn, Alto Sax & Vocals
    Bill Laswell, Bass
    Mick Harris, Drums
    Justin Broadrick, Guitar, Drum Machine, Vocals (on “Buried Secrets” and “The Toll”)
    G.C. Green, Bass (on “Buried Secrets” and “The Toll”)​

    Painkiller's Collected Works (not, in fact, the band's complete recorded legacy) is a four-disc set on Tzadik of which these items (two albums and a single track) comprise “Disc 0”. Guts of a Virgin runs 24 minutes and is followed by 27 minutes of Buried Secrets: I'd suggest that they should be heard that way because the effort of listening to both back-to-back. Sound quality on Guts is pretty abysmal, sounding as though it was performed in a warehouse and recorded at an open window. Tracks range from brief hardcore miniatures to longer forays with very little harmonic movement and Zorn's omnipresent shrieking on sax. The experience is frankly purgatorial and not one that needs memorialising with track notes.

    Buried Secrets is better recorded so that at least you can make out more easily what the drums & bass are playing and the kick drum, with it's all-important blast beats, has some weight. The album is also more varied, with the track “Blackhole Dub” introducing the Dub style that became the hallmark of Painkiller on later recordings. The two tracks featuring Broadrick & Green are both over six minutes long, accounting for nearly half of the album. Already on “Buried Secrets” you can hear the project expanding to become something more interesting than we heard on Guts, with a slow, resolute feel. “The Toll” emerges out of a miasma of feedback with Broadrick (of Godflesh) providing death grunts. This album also has more in common with Naked City in that while stylistic shifts are virtually non-existent, there are some interesting gear shifts.

    “Marianne” is a single track but at 7’50” is the longest track on the album. No personnel credits are given but there are male vocals (sung in Japanese?) and the piece begins abruptly, as though edited down from something longer. This is a nice bonus but still fairly hard slogging.

    Painkiller comes a long way in this single disc, from something I'd happily never hear again to something with the potential to carve out a small niche for itself in the Zorn discography. It's amazing how far Zorn had moved from the mainstream by the point that he made these recordings, threatening to become some sort of experimental avant-Metal artist and disappear from view entirely. While his later Metal bands, such as Simulacrum & Moonchild, have their moments of raw aggression they still represent a turn back towards comprehensible Rock compared to these early Painkiller recordings.
     
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  17. Jeff Kent

    Jeff Kent Forum Resident

    Location:
    Mt. Kisco, NY
    Painkiller isn't a band I listen to every day, but with my Metal background it's sometimes exactly what I want to hear...
     
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  18. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    You just remind me how much Zorn Metal and Hard Rock I have ahead of me in this thread ... :help:
     
  19. Jeff Kent

    Jeff Kent Forum Resident

    Location:
    Mt. Kisco, NY
    Hahaha, it's part of the fun of being a Zorn fan.
     
  20. gd0

    gd0 Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies

    Location:
    Golden Gate
    Yeah, well, let's see how much fun you have with (the band) Cleric from the Beri'ah series. :laugh:

    Rough stuff vocally, but that's in contrast to the hypnotic metal (with keyboards ? ! ? !) behind it.

    Non-Zorn Cleric here: Retrocausal, by Cleric
     
  21. gd0

    gd0 Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies

    Location:
    Golden Gate
    This is one series that I might not ever 'get' – or maybe even try too hard.

    I am due for another attempt, though.

    Pray for me. :laugh:

    This was my first Zorn album also, maybe around 2000 or so. Got a hunch it was many others' as well.

    I knew there was a Zorn. I knew who Frith, Frisell and Eye were. But I didn't know anything else. Pretty sure I got it largely for the cover art; not the dead guy in the street, but the disturbing snake-in-the-eye on the back. o_O

    Anyway, it was shocking as intended. But it was also an instant keeper.

    Why? Because I grew up with the music of Carl Stalling, that's why. :laugh:

     
  22. Jeff Kent

    Jeff Kent Forum Resident

    Location:
    Mt. Kisco, NY
    Cleric I can deal with. It's my Metal roots.

    The Carl Stalling album is brilliant, both of them, though I don't think Zorn had anything to do with the second.
     
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  23. eeglug

    eeglug Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago, IL, USA
    My first entry to Zorn was a vinyl copy of The Big Gundown when it first came out. I enjoyed it but was a little lukewarm about it. Need to give it another listen.

    Later Naked City was just a stone cold classic when it first came out. Totally blew me away. To a certain extent Zappa did some rapid fire shifts in unison playing but I think Zorn just took it to a whole new level.

    I also grabbed Torture Garden which was all those short Yamataka Eye tracks. (I wound up getting one of the Boredoms albums too). Then the cut/splice/dice experiment continued into Mr Bungle's debut. I think the Naked City and Bungle debuts are 10/10 and remain so.

    I need to hunt down the rest of the Naked City catalog original issues. I heard the one with the Messaien piece and wasn't all that impressed by it. (I was already listening to that piece by a straight classical ensemble and loved it).

    Painkiller was ok, but I never really returned to it much. (I'm talking about Guts of a Virgin).
     
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  24. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    @eeglug It sounds like you may have checked out after what some people regard as Zorn's “Postmodernist” phase (although I believe that he rejects that term). I've got to think that there's material from later on that you might like, including some of the classical pieces (since you like Messiaen).
     
  25. eeglug

    eeglug Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago, IL, USA
    I did check out for a while but then made efforts to get back in again...I have most of Book of Angels and all of Book Beriah. I love Electric Masada, the Bar Kokhba Sextet and Gnostic Trio. I also have a scattering of other discs but I have gaps like much of the original Masada releases as well as Moonchild and many others. I do need to look into more of his classical material. His discography is pretty overwhelming.

    I did attend some of a full day program Zorn did here in 2018 at the Art Institute of Chicago which I documented here.

    I'm entertained by your reviews, which are both opinionated but also light and amusing.
     
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