John Zorn

Basically a place to talk about the living legend John Zorn so I don’t clog up the jazz thread.

He was one of the last streaming holdouts until a few days ago, when he uploaded most of his catalogue. This is pretty important given the depth and breadth of his catalogue, but also because getting his shit is expensive. There’s hundreds of albums, a lot of them only available as expensive imports and even the stuff released on his own Tzadik label is fairly pricey at $20 per album on average. With his newfound embrace of streaming though, it’s easier than ever to explore this universe of great music.

As of late, I’ve been listening to a lot of 444, the latest album from his Chaos Magick group, easily one of my favorite albums of the year so far.

this was the original thread title btw.

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Sadly the album Spillane isn’t on Spotify, likely because it’s owned by Nonesuch, but the amazing 25-minute title track is present as part of the Godard/Spillane comp. Easily one of the best tracks from Zorn’s earlier years. The other two tracks are pretty cool too.

Re-listening to 1993’s Kristallnacht rn. Not one of my favorites exactly, but obviously a big turning point, and one that’s interesting to think about.

I can’t believe I didn’t see this trend now, but like half of his album covers (especially from Naked City and Painkiller) from around '90 to 93 are just insanely graphic pictures or illustrations of mutilated dead people. Obviously not someone in a great space, or at the very least a bit of an edgelord. He even got in hot water in the early '90s for, among other things, using a picture of a Lingchi (a.k.a. death by a thousand cuts) victim for an album cover. He was basically the jazz version of Shadow the Hedgehog.

That stops pretty much instantly with the end of Naked City and the release Kristallnacht in '93 though, which was his first exploration of his Jewish heritage, a trajectory that would pretty much dominate his output for the rest of the '90s for him and to a lesser extent, up until today. Kristallnacht feels like a real purging for him.

“Every Jew has to come to grips with the Holocaust in some kind of way, and that was my statement, that’s how I did it… It was like a whole lifetime of denying my Jewish heritage coming out in one piece.”

I’m not the first to point out this shift; in this great paper, Thom Hosken explicitly calls Kristallnacht and his newfound embrace of Jewish identity a turning point. But even after that, he took this exploration into a totally new spaces with Masada and the wider Radical Jewish Culture project series, which is nearly 200 albums deep at this point iirc, and he never really revisited it through the painful lens of Kristallnacht.

After Kristallnacht I wanted to do something that was not about the history of pain and
suffering, but about the future and how bright and how beautiful it can be.

From Oddments to Music

From Oddments to Music

From Music to Music

From Music to Music

Really enjoying Songs for Petra atm. Really atypical work for Zorn, even by his eclectic standards: this is basically a collection of really chill, well-constructed singer-songwriter fare a lá Carole King, all sung by Petra Haden

Can’t believe I’ve never found this: a great 2-hour radio documentary on Zorn from 2000. Obviously a lot missing from the last 25 or so years, but tons of great insight from da god Zorn.

With his newfound embrace of streaming though, it’s easier than ever to explore this universe of great music.

Any tips for that? All I’ve heard is The Book Beri’ah Vo. 1.

I would usually say something from the first round of Masada albums or Naked City, but they’re both among the few not on streaming now.

Of the ones on streaming, I’d say all these are decent starting points, though none of them are even remotely all-encompassing because Zorn is just so all over the place.

  • Electric Masada - At The Mountains of Madness.

Great place to start with the heavier stuff. Not as nuts or eclectic as Painkiller, Baked City or even Simulacrum, but still a great record.

  • The Dreamers - O’o.

The Dreamers are a good place to start with his Exotica stuff, and this is an excellent collection.

  • Bar Kokhba.

Other than the first Masada records, this is maybe the best starting point for his approach to klezmer and the Radical Jewish Culture project as a whole, as it’s incorporated very nicely here without taking centre stage.

  • The Big Gundown

I feel obligated to include this one even if it isn’t one of my favorites. This was Zorn’s breakout moment, an avant-garde take on Morricone. I think it’s a mixed bag, some think it’s a classic, but it’s still a good place to start even if it works best as a taster of his approach in the late 80’s/early 90’s than his wider body of work.

Have to also give a nod to the first New Masada Quartet album from 2021. Not a bad one to sub in for those first Masada albums not on streaming yet.

Such a shame much of the Elektra and Avant stuff still isn’t on streaming or even in press on CD or LP, including the excellent Spy vs. Spy