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The John Zorn Thread

Discussion in 'Music' started by redcarmoose, Aug 21, 2009.
  1. Redcarmoose
    Naked City, Masada, John Zorn, let's post our favorites. Please no cover art posts. If you know what this music is then you know your album or cd covers. This music is sometimes hard to find and sometimes hard to digest. It's not like anything before or after. It's not liked by everyone but loved by many. We all have disks we love and a personal history of how we were introduced to the music. I found it in an undergrownd record store. Some people were into it due to Grindcore. The truth is this music covers all types of music from jazz to rock to newage. What has your journey been? This music is trying at times but the rewards are great. It's kind of like traveling through a downtown area with the windows rolled down and hearing bar music from 10 different bars all in the space of 100 feet.
    Then there is the story of Masada.....Just a man with a mission with the help of friends. He changed my understanding of music, what did he do for you?
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2019
  2. jazznap
    Even though I have probably 60+ of his discs, I'm not sure I sure I could name specific favorites. They all have their unique moments. Sicilian Clan live by Naked City would be close though. After that, The Gift, followed by all of his string/piano ensemble Masada discs.

    I was first introduced when I lucked out and found News for Lulu is a used store (an absolute classic). Then it was off to the races. I've never really gotten into his super hardcore stuff (massacre, painkiller, etc) though. Naked City is enough for me.
  3. Sarah

    Originally Posted by Redcarmoose /img/forum/go_quote.gif
    He changed my understanding of music, what did he do for you?

    Same here! Totally changed my attitude towards live music especially. I was broadcasting an internet radio show and there was a regular listener that I had gotten to be friendly with, we had some similar tastes in music. He suggested I check out some Zorn and I did, though it took me a while to find something that I liked on first listen. (The actual strange part about that story is that I found out later that the guy who recommended it to me was 12 or 13 years old at the time... not necessarily relevant except that I'm completely impressed with anyone who has such an understanding of music at that age.)

    The first time I saw JZ in concert, I barely knew any of his stuff... had a few Masada albums (I think Malphas, one of the String Trio CDs and the Bar Kokhba live set). But I saw he was doing a Masada show in NYC at the 92nd St. Y and I just got this feeling I needed to go. I don't live in New York so it was quite an urge that got me to take a 4-hour train ride and get a hotel room and all that. The first piece they played (Kol Nidre with a small string orchestra) was so stunning that the audience was dead silent afterwards (I was actually holding my breath) until John turned around and looked at us like "uh, hello?" and then there was thunderous applause. The middle two bands were excellent - the string trio and the quartet - but Electric Masada was last and it completely, COMPLETELY blew my mind. I'd heard a track or two of the band before but there is something about seeing it that made so much more sense to me - the conducting, the improv solos, the game aspects, and the concert-hall sonic impact - it just changed how I think about music, how I hear music. Things I didn't "get" before made sense afterwards. It opened my ears so much.

    Now I have 40 or 50 of his albums plus a bunch of great bootlegs and have seen him a dozen more times in three different cities. I still feel that I am a relative novice in the world of Zorn though... there's so much I haven't heard.

    I could write a short novel about the stunning concerts - the Bar Kokhba show in 2007 where Marc Ribot looked like he'd just fallen out of bed and played insane dirty surf guitar solos like he was on fire... or the still-can't-believe-I-was-there Secret Chiefs "Xaphan" premiere show at the Stone where I was sitting about four feet from the band... or the Essential Cinema set that completely f-ed my head in (after the set the guy next to me said something like "you know, they should really tell you in advance if hallucinogens are mandatory"). His shows are not to be missed, for sure...
  4. Redcarmoose
    OK,OK What have I done? I have a 10 CD or so collection with Painkiller Collected Works, Naked City Absinthe,Grand Guignol. Some film music and some Masada disks. I thought I had a good grasp, I even read the John Zorn Book. That is music. There is more out there than you know. I will have to get on board. Mike Patton with Fantomas as well as his film music{ The Directors Cut} has been a favorite. I guess Grand Guignol has to be my favorite but I am not worthy. I am not worthy to choose anymore! Never ever saw him live. I guess I need to. I did know a girl with a John Zorn tattoo on the back of her neck. I guess that counts for a little.

    Somehow I never thought this music was recorded that well. I have been into music well before getting a good HI/FI set up. Upon putting Grand Guignol in my CD player 5 years after I purchased it, I was blown away by the SQ.
  5. Sarah
    Well if you only have 10 CDs... maybe I will recommend a few! The Big Gundown is widely regarded as a classic; among the Masada albums, the Bar Kokhba live set is still a favorite of mine. (I have a ton of Masada favorites though - the Secret Chiefs "Xaphan," Feldman/Courvoisier "Malphas," Bar Kokhba "Lucifer," and the Cracow Klezmer Band "Balan" is kind of uneven but the best songs are some of my favorites in the series). Among the Filmworks series I think "Belle de Nature" is my favorite, though I only have about 8 of them so I'm picking from a limited selection. The Gift / The Dreamers / O'o are a really fun exploration of exotica and I love all three. The Dreamers & O'o seem like they should be rewarding for a good hi-fi setup since they are so layered and detailed.
  6. grawk
    I've got a recording of Zorn with Medeski and Ribot from the Knitting Factory that was made by a friend of mine. One of the most compelling performances I've ever heard. I always recommend Zorn to people who are looking for challenging music.
  7. jazznap
    Also some other genres he has touched on include:

    Voodoo, Spy vs Spy, News for Lulu all of which are more straight ahead jazz
    Cartoon/S&M - his take on classical

    All of which are good.

    New Traditions in East Asian Bar Bands is a fun one too. His Electronic Masada band is good also.
  8. catachresis
    I'm enjoying this thread, though I don't have any Zorn albums, per se. I know a bit about who is he and how he's been involved with The Knitting Factory.

    What I *do* have is a Fundamental label 2lp set of Eugene Chadbourne's LSD C&W, which is my favorite Chadbourne release/compilation. Disk1Side1 begins with The Chadbournes' acid and gingham-laced "The Beatles Medley" -- 20-odd minutes. The swinging but short cover of "Octopus' Garden" is so distorted as to sound literally sub-aquatic, but pivots on a stunning and mostly-straight John Zorn tenor sax solo. 'Word to the Zorn completist.
  9. tru blu
    Just a word about The Big Gundown: It's a tribute to the film music of Italian composer Ennio Morricone. Quite inventive and original…I think it holds up better than quite a bit of his other work. Also really dig his Ornette Coleman-inspired music, like Spy Vs. Spy: The Music of… and those Masada live things, especially Live in Sevilla, 2000. The Bar Kokhba chamber ensembles stuff is nice to listen to, but I don't think it's as unique as the consensus likes to think it is. No denying how vast and varied his catalog is, though.[​IMG]
  10. Redcarmoose
    Thx bigtime Sarah, I will check em out! I guess to have a couple of CDs and love them makes anyone a JZ fan. I should have known this thread would get input from cats who have jumped way down into the JZ rabbit tunnel. I thought there was a cool factor with his music that has never gone away. Nice to know it's classic.
  11. Sarah

    Originally Posted by tru blu /img/forum/go_quote.gif
    The Bar Kokhba chamber ensembles stuff is nice to listen to, but I don't think it's as unique as the consensus likes to think it is. No denying how vast and varied his catalog is, though.[​IMG]

    The Bar Kokhba studio albums can be sort of dull (though nice, as you say, to listen to). They really come to life as a live band, which is why I always recommend the 3-disc live set on Tzadik as a starter. I have a couple dozen high-quality recordings of their live sets but not everyone is as crazy as me when it come to collecting those [​IMG] Zorn has allowed a lot of TV and radio broadcasts of his shows in Europe so you can find a lot of really nice professional recordings.
  12. Pangaea
    I love these threads, esp. when it is an artist I am just beginning to explore. I have been meaning to pick up Naked City for awhile and finally did after seeing this thread. What else is a good one for those starting out?
  13. Sarah
    I have such a hard time picking one or two discs to recommend, honestly - he's got something like 200 and he is putting out new releases faster than ever. If you look up "prolific" in the dictionary I hear they've got his picture there! Many people might not realize that he primarily considers himself a composer, so most of his releases do not feature him on saxophone. And due to his methods, much of his best work is done live... hence a ton of live releases.

    I've focused on his Masada releases as they are my favorites and probably the biggest part of his discography (about 40 albums).

    Easy introductory discs for the fearful:
    Bar Kokhba 50th Birthday Celebration (3CD live set) - a superstar band with a string trio, two percussionists and surf guitar
    Stolas (Masada Quintet) - trumpet/sax jazz quintet with Joe Lovano taking over the sax. A less skronky, much smoother version of the classic Masada Quartet.
    Masada Guitars - solo acoustic guitar from several brilliant guitarists. Meditative but still a bit challenging.
    The Dreamers (or "The Gift" if you like it a bit darker) - Exotica - very interesting and a lot of fun. Same percussion/guitar as Bar Kokhba with keyboards, electric bass and a vibraphone instead of the string section.

    More advanced introductory discs for the ambitious:
    Malphas (Feldman/Courvoisier) - Violin & prepared piano, some stunning beauty but also some avant garde stuff which is harder to wrap your ears around.
    Masada Quartet 50th Birthday Celebration - skronkier trumpet/sax jazz, very exciting - the original Masada with JZ on sax
    Xaphan (Secret Chiefs 3) - a different take on Masada, more produced/polished, very complex with a Middle Eastern flavor.
    Electric Masada 50th Birthday Celebration - wild stuff, experimental metal/rock/newage. JZ on sax conducting seven other people while playing.
  14. tru blu

    Originally Posted by Pangaea /img/forum/go_quote.gif
    I love these threads, esp. when it is an artist I am just beginning to explore. I have been meaning to pick up Naked City for awhile and finally did after seeing this thread. What else is a good one for those starting out?

    I'd say start with The Big Gundown. Zorn's arrangements for Morricone's music are truly engaging, and they're fleshed out by an all-star cast of rotating sidefolk: Bill Frisell, Arto Lindsay, Fred Frith, Anton Fier, Toots Thielemans, Melvin Gibbs, Vernon Reid, Bobby Previte, etc, etc. Also, the updated Tzadik edition (the disc was originally on Nonesuch) contains five or six bonuses and a beautiful booklet.
  15. fuseboxx
    It's really hard to recommend a John Zorn albums since aside from the HUGE number albums he's made under his name, he also composes and orchestrates albums for other artists.

    As far as John Zorn albums go, I'd recommend these three as starting points:

    The Circle Maker
    Bar Kokhba
    - Yes this is the album, not the group.
    Naked City - I'd save this for last due to its avant-garde tendencies though...

    And for albums by other artists made by Zorn:

    Electric Masada - At the Mountains of Madness
    Naked City - Torture Garden

    The 50th Birthday Celebration and Book of Angels series are also quite good.

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