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

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

  1. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    Ah, you have a lot then: it wasn't clear from your earlier post. I was going to recommend the Secret Chiefs 3 since you liked Mr. Bungle but it sounds as though you would have them covered. As for the Classical, rewards can be patchy so I wouldn't recommend that you buy them on spec; I'll be covering a fair number of them as I go on.

    Thanks for the compliment, by the way. I think it's impossible not to have a sense of humour about owning so many CDs that I actively dislike by the same recording artist. Most people would check out after the first dud they bought yet not only do I keep buying but in many cases I will actually buy a Zorn CD despite being pretty confident in advance that I won't particularly enjoy it. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me fifty times ..?
     
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  2. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    Nova Quartet: Dreamachines: Music for Gysin and Burroughs
    [​IMG]


    Genre: Acoustic Jazz
    Label & Year of Release: Tzadik, 2013
    Category: Accessible
    My Rating: 10/10

    Personnel
    John Medeski, Piano
    Kenny Wollesen, Vibes
    Trevor Dunn, Double Bass
    Joey Baron, Drums​
    1. “Psychic Conspirators”. Fast, skittering, jumpcut Jazz with a file-card/game fell. Nice brief ostinato section about half a minute in and again 90 seconds in.
    2. “Git-le-Coeur”. Slow, rather seductive start that unwinds on a 5/8 vibes pattern. After a spray of notes we get a laid-back, uplifting section with piano prominent. A vibe pattern (this time 6/8) comes back and prompts a more static section to the end.
    3. “The Conqueror Worm”. A dramatic, exciting ostinato on low piano. Vibes announce and repeat the main theme in an Eastern scale before taking an extended solo spot. Build into piano solo. At four minutes there's great, high-energy drum solo from Baron. Back to the head on vibes.
    4. “The Third Mind”. String atmospherics from Dunn over anxious vibes. An ostinato from Medeski provides the basis for a surprisingly sunny syncopated 6/8 section. An angular motto from Wollesen two minutes in sets up a flowing, relaxed piano solo, which is handed off to vibes and then bass. After turnaround chords Wollesen plays the angular motto again and Dunn again provides string atmospherics to end.
    5. “Light Chapel”. Darkly dreaming piece, static with small clusters of notes. Something of a free improvisation feel but not hard on the ear.
    6. “The Dream Machine”. Cheerful, busy piece in fast waltz time with a repeated three-note pattern as an idée fixe. Vibes support ecstatic piano soloing into vibes solo. After the head is repeated piano to end.
    7. “Note Virus”. File-card feel with chaotic sections. Zorn conducted this album and you can sense him in this track. Clamorous but brief drum solo into very brief ostinato and end.
    8. “1001 Nights In Marrakech”. I'm not really up on my dance forms but I think this is a slow Rumba with Baron keeping a steady rhythm and Wollesen dominant. After a false end we get a brief angular section and then a resumption of the piece to end.
    9. “The Wild Boys”. File-card feel with chaos. Complex head. Atonal fast piano with prominent bass into frenzied vibes playing. Again, you sense the conductor here, and is that his voice barely audible in the background. Head again to emphatic end.
    On paper, William Burroughs is the perfect subject for Zorn since his “cut-up” approach to montage finds an exact counterpart in his jump-cut musical style. In practice, this album is one of my absolute favourites, with gorgeous musicianship, high energy and enough complexity to avoid the sleepiness that threatens to impinge at the accessible end of the discography. It helps that “The Conqueror Worm” is also one of my favourite individual tracks but the strength of the album is such that no track really weighs it down: it's consistently excellent and a fitting recipient of my first 10/10.

    There are several “dream teams” for me amongst Zorn ensembles and this configuration of quartet with vibes & piano and is certainly one of them. That may of course be because the instrumentation can handle the more aggressive material without becoming too much: are the three gamey pieces here any better as written, for example, than the “Apparitions” trilogy that I found taxing on Ipsissimus? Probably not. How much you like the instruments themselves will have an undoubted effect on the way that you receive this music.
     
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  3. Jimbino

    Jimbino Goad Kicker, Music Lover

    Location:
    San Jose, CA, USA
    Now the dilemma: do I purchase the download version or the physical (at least twice as much)?
     
  4. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    I don't like spending other people's money. In as deep as I am it's physical or bust for me but there are going to be other tens from me and I can't argue with the logic of buying digital.
     
  5. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Midlands, UK
  6. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    John Zorn: IAO - Music In Sacred Light
    [​IMG]

    Genre: Music Romance/Mixed
    Label & Year of Release: Tzadik, 2002
    Categories: Accessible/Scares The Horses
    My Rating: 2/10

    Personnel
    John Zorn (Wikipedia lists him as playing Alto Sax but I didn't notice him while listening)
    Bill Laswell, Bass
    Cyro Baptista, Percussion
    Jennifer Charles, Vocals
    Greg Cohen, Double Bass
    Beth Anne Hatton, Vocals
    Rebecca Moore, Violin
    Mike Patton, Voice
    Jim Pugliese, Drums
    Jamie Saft, Organ​
    1. “Invocation”. Gong, held organ tones, a susurration (created by voices and/or brushes on drums?), a crescendo of gong and cymbals, rattling chains, pitch-modulated vocal recordings, dissonant keyboard tones, poured water, distant manipulated vocals. Sinister whispering at the end. It's all rather “try-hard” and a track I'd usually skip.
    2. “Sex Magick”. Insistent percussion piece led by Cyro Baptista who keeps up a hypnotic and, if the title is to be believed, erotic groove for thirteen minutes. Would have been better at three minutes but that may reveal more than I intend to about my own sexual sticking power!
    3. “Sacred Rites Of The Left Hand Path”. An arpeggio on Fender Rhodes accompanied by high piano, bass and two interlocking rhythmic phrases (handclaps?) left & right. Moody but directionless.
    4. “The Clavicle of Solomon”. Solomon's Key is a Renaissance grimoire attributed to Solomon so we're on spooky ground. A series of electronic noises including another stereo rhythmic effect which continues for around four minutes, then cuts out. This piece is ambient and not difficult to listen to but rather underwhelming and does not justify a running length of nine minutes.
    5. “Lucifer Rising”. Female vocals hold chords with a keyboard figure in the background while, in the musical foreground, Jennifer Charles moans & murmurs like someone out of a Dennis Wheatley adaptation.
    6. “Leviathan”. Mike Patton's extreme vocals seem to be layered into a collage of angry Metal band interplay.
    7. “Mysteries”. A meandering improvisation on electric piano. As usual with this album, doesn't really seem to go anywhere.
    This isn't officially part of the Music Romance series but it is so much of that genre that I have stretched a point and included it.

    IAO, in case you're interested, is an early Greek transliteration of the Tetragrammaton (YWHW) representing for Jews the name of God, but Tzadik tells us that “the name IAO is Kabbalistically identical to the Beast and his number 666.” This is a good example of the game that Zorn often plays with magical elements: are they demonic or angelic? I'm never sure whether he intends us to treat his frequent references to mysticism as sincere or whether they are a music metaphor: either way I am rather suspicious of them and I frankly dislike albums like this that seem to lean heavily on “mystery”.

    I've got a feeling that my rating will be controversial because I know that many Zorn fans like this album. When I reviewed this on Amazon I gave it two stars out of five but that was in 2008. Today, with Zorn's extraordinary output of really great albums since, I struggle to justify giving it anything at all, especially since there are albums at the lower end of my rating scale that (however little I enjoy them) I could make a case for being “important” or “pivotal”. IAO is neither: it doesn't provoke, challenge or entertain. If anything, it's the soundtrack to a movie that I wouldn't want to watch.
     
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  7. mr.datsun

    mr.datsun Incompletist

    Location:
    London
    A better title would really help this thread. 'My personal and very partial guide to John Zorn'.
     
  8. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    Well I could have called it “Sordel listens to Zorn” but then people would only have pointed out how incomplete that other thread is! :D I don't think that any person giving an overview could fail to favour the side of the discography that they preferred, so I think that your suggested amendment is redundant, but I take your point and would encourage anyone with a different view to voice it.
     
  9. Jimbino

    Jimbino Goad Kicker, Music Lover

    Location:
    San Jose, CA, USA
    I'm not on the insta-buy train of every 10 posted. :) I had sampled Dreamachines in the past and I initially passed because some of the tracks are so frantic, but I am approaching this with fresher ears.
    Is it fair to say that the "Accessible" label really means "Accessible as Zorn goes?" This would not pass "the wife" test, whereas Alhambra Love Songs and Midnight Moons certainly do. I guess every label needs a YMMV caveat.

    Keep up the good work, @Sordel .
     
  10. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    Thanks! Yes, Accessible is a debatable term when approaching Zorn but I wanted to be able to distinguish some albums that were still reasonably pleasant to hear for an adventurous general listener from “Relaxed” (which can veer towards the other word I considered using for it, Sleepy). I haven't used the label Relaxed much so far (I'm thinking that will change when we get to Gnostic Trio or Midsummer Moons) but I have as many issues with the saccharine sweetness of some Zorn as I do at the other end of the scale with his noisier tracks. The downside with Accessible is that it can end up resolving into “I like that” whereas any other category sounds like “I don't like that”. Since this is a guide for the Zorn newcomer, however, I think it's useful to have some sort of label to indicate the line between being in Kansas and not being in Kansas any more, Toto. In Dreamachines’ case, the caveat would be that it's accessible if you listen to Jazz so I suppose the process is: look at the Genre then the Category ... if you like the Genre then you should be alright if the category is (mainly) Accessible. There will be Metal albums where I might end up using the word Accessible despite the fact that they will be pretty unbearable to anyone who doesn't listen to Metal at all and the same with the Classical stuff where I'd have to admit that most of it is pretty inaccessible unless you listen to 20th century music.
     
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  11. rodrigosanche55

    rodrigosanche55 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Madrid, Spain
    Wow I do think IAO is pivotal and essential in Zorn's discography!
    So great reading your thoughts, keep it going!
     
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  12. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    I realise people like it. When I read @Norco say that Taboo & Exile was “in the same league as IAO” in the other thread I had doubletake because obviously I have a very different evaluation of those two albums. In the same league as IAO would be a big red flag for me! :D
     
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  13. Jimbino

    Jimbino Goad Kicker, Music Lover

    Location:
    San Jose, CA, USA
    Well said!
     
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  14. Rob C

    Rob C Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago, IL, USA
    I must say I'm a bit shocked at the low rating for Naked City. That first NC record is a stone 10/10 classic in my book!

    I'm lukewarm on a lot of the later stuff from that band. Though to be honest, I would probably pull out the Naked City box set more if not for the graphics. I could really do without the disturbing imagery on a lot of Zorn's records--I'm glad he seems to have pretty much moved on from the shock value packaging, at least as far as I have seen.
     
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  15. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    There’s no pretence to objectivity in my personal ratings but bear in mind that it’s only a scale of John Zorn titles so 4/10 doesn’t mean “in the bottom 40% of all albums” (though it might also mean that!) ... it means strictly in the bottom 40% of John Zorn albums. Since I’m a Zorn fan and like a lot of Zorn albums that feels right to me.

    I think we get so used to a scale of 1-10 where 6 means average and 5 means awful that some of those lower numbers can look pretty terrible if you’re not ready for them.
     
  16. Rob C

    Rob C Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago, IL, USA
    Thanks. I was just surprised that as a Zorn fan you do not rate NC higher, since I thought it was pretty universally beloved among Zorn fans. But of course, it's possible, and I guess even probable, to have a completely different set of enthusiasms for an artist whose work covers such a wide variety of styles.
     
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  17. gd0

    gd0 Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies

    Location:
    Golden Gate
    Unsolicited opinion: both Dreammachines and IAO rank 11/10 in this house. The former gets gobs of spins here. I've latched on to Zorn's vibes / percussion pieces instantly. Why? Probably because of the Looney Tunes / Zappa flowing thru my veins.

    Maybe even moreso than Dreammachines, the more recent The Interpretation Of Dreams is another instant classic here. It helps that I saw that ensemble play it live.

    If this is a poll, I vote downloads, with disclosure that I'm looking to obviate physical media in general. I'll get discs when necessary; content comes first. I lament missing out on any Chippy packages that I can hold in my hands, but just like in real life, money dictates what I do here. I'm even stubbornly waiting to see if there is a download option for Bagatelles.
     
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  18. pbuzby

    pbuzby Senior Member

    Location:
    Chicago, IL, US
    Where is the download for sale?
     
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  19. Jimbino

    Jimbino Goad Kicker, Music Lover

    Location:
    San Jose, CA, USA
    Via Apple iTunes Music Store (< $9.00) and boomkat.com.
     
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  20. speedracer

    speedracer Forum Resident

    Location:
    Sapa
    If there was ever an example of title turnoff this is it. That's an invitation I will turn down, thanks.
     
  21. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    John Zorn: There Is No More Firmament
    [​IMG]

    Genre: Chamber/Acoustic Jazz
    Label & Year of Release: Tzadik, 2017
    Category: Mixed but (sort of) Accessible
    My Rating: 6/10
    1. “Antiphonal Fanfare For The Great Hall.” Performed by the six trumpeters of The Practical Trumpet Society this is a jeu d’esprit where the musicians throw ideas from left to right between them, first as repetition, then as hocketing, then as chords, then as spread chords. The chords thicken towards the end and there is a brief dissonance at the climax. It's a fun piece that does not outstay its welcome at four minutes.
    2. “Freud.” Chris Otto on Violin with Jay Campbell & Mike Nicolas on Cellos. Tortured strings at the start, then alternation between noisy sections of Modernist writing with very quiet, still sections often featuring string harmonics. Pizzicato interjections about a third of the way through, then Romantic, declamatory violin. A faster section, moderately dissonant followed by some lyrical writing for violin. A see-sawing section followed by Evidently the piece depicts pathological psychological states in the course of eleven movements but I hear it as one, very varied work that is rather packed with ideas for its ten minute length.
    3. “Merlin”. Peter Evans (who we already met on “Cerberus”) on Bb trumpet. This is a virtuoso showpiece employing extended techniques that, amongst other things, provides a composed counterpart to The Classic Guide To Strategy on a different instrument. Not being a musician I am at a loss to say exactly what we are hearing although a section of circular breathing is clearly impressive, as is the fluidity & flexibility with which Evans moves from one section to the next. I actually recommend this piece which, at six minutes, is again a very appropriate length.
    4. “Divagations: Ravings”. This and the following track feature Stephen Gosling on (notated) piano with an improvising rhythm section of Christian McBride on bass & Tyshawn Sorey on drums. The combination of notated/improvising musicians has become a big feature of Zorn's output in recent years and it is notable for the muscularity of the Jazz that it produces: “Ravings” is unquestionably Jazz but it has a fierce precision that does not sound exactly like his head-with-improvisation ensembles.
    5. “Divagations: Wanderings”. As the title suggests, a less directional piece for the same trio with a very stop/start feel. Two minutes in an incongruously consonant arpeggio starts up which will be a relief to some but seems jarring in context. Fast piano and a drum solo deep into the third minute invokes Jazz again before a lyrical bass spot.
    6. “The Steppenwolf”. Joshua Rubin on A Clarinet. (Not a clarinet, you understand, but an A Clarinet!) I like the sound of clarinet anyway and this piece, rather than focusing on extended techniques or honking, is fast-flowing and melodic: indeed, at seven minutes it is probably accessible & concise enough to become a repertoire/competition piece and Rubin's playing is often beautiful, always virtuosic.
    7. “In Excelsis”. Performed by The American Brass Quintet. At less than two and half minutes this piece is cheerful and consonant though (as a delighted Zorn tells us) evidently too difficult to play for the brass players for whom it was written! The ABQ make it sound positively straightforward.
    8. “Merlin”. The same piece, performed by Marco Blaauw on double-bell trumpet in C. I think that I prefer this performance and it's nice to have both.
    9. “Il n’y a Plus de Firmament”. Performed by the Talea Ensemble. Composed for woodwind quintet, this piece is described by Zorn as “Varesean”: I only know Varèse's pieces for larger forces so I can't comment. It is densely-scored with an abundance of ideas and again rather deserves to become a repertoire piece.
    The wide range of pieces on this disc really commends it to a listener who wants to hear the range of Zorn's invention as a “Classical” composer. With the exception of some passages in the string piece, it's not too difficult to listen to and - unlike some of the longer string quartets - none of the works tests my patience. That said, I haven't listened to this disc through since it was issued so I'm not able to give it the very high rating that it arguably merits on a quasi-objective scale.
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2021
  22. Nycademon

    Nycademon Forum Resident

    $13.50 CD on Amazon and $11.00 FLAC on boomkat . . .
     
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  23. Jimbino

    Jimbino Goad Kicker, Music Lover

    Location:
    San Jose, CA, USA
    I purchased from Apple Music and have been listening to it fairly non-stop.
    It's all to love about Zorn.
    If ain't 10/10, it's sure a strong 8 to 9!

    Highly recommended.
     
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  24. Jimbino

    Jimbino Goad Kicker, Music Lover

    Location:
    San Jose, CA, USA
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  25. JSUB

    JSUB Forum Resident

    Location:
    Louisville, KY
    In case you didn't know "Invitation To A Suicide" was a film that Zorn did the soundtrack to. Wikipedia quotes Allmusic as "The Allmusic review by Thom Jurek awarded the album 4½ stars noting that "Invitation to a Suicide, is easily the most profound, musically complex, and emotionally compelling of all of Zorn's soundtrack world... It stands as one of his masterworks in and out of the series, and will hopefully endure as a shining star in his already vast compositional catalog"
     
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