Graham Reid | | 2 min read
John Zorn albums are like buses, if you miss one another will be a long soon.
Or three will arrive at the same time.
New York's John Zorn – now just days away from turning 70 – went from avant-garde outsider to avant-garde insider whose early saxophone style didn't much impress serious jazz critics but captured the kind of post-No Wave downtown scene where all kinds of genres were up for grabs and being thrown in the blender.
His early experimental collages in sound were mighty impressive and these days he's as much behind the scenes as in the spotlight.
Here's a quick flyover of recent albums appended to his name, on one of his labels or under his wing.
This is actually the interweaving acoustic guitars of Julian Lage and Gyan Riley -- whom Zorn brought together for a series of projects under the banner Bagatelles – on five pieces inspired by the 1929 novel by Richard Hughes A High Wind in Jamaica
In that story children are taken aboard a pirate ship and then things get really dark.
And the child Emily even darker than the pirates.
The pieces here mark that emotional and narrative journey from The Innocent Voyage through Restless Melancholy and Hallucinations to Amor Fati and restful and romantic coda of A Childhood Memory.
It is an extraordinary album of immensely complex and emotionally dense playing.
Not your average after-dinner acoustic guitar duets.
Homenaje a Remedios Varo
As the title says, this is a homage to the female Surrealist painter Remedios Varo (1908-63) by pianist Brian Marsella, guitarist Julian Lage, Peruvian bassist Jorge Roede and drummer Ches Smith.
We're stabbing in the dark here in the absence of information but it seems, perhaps, these are Zorn's compositions played by this quite remarkable quartet which change shift from piano-driven swing to left-field Bill Frisell in a matter of a few bars.
But it never sounds like the vehicle is making sudden swerves, rather the musicians are all along for the ride and you can be their happy passenger although the seatbelt is mandatory.
Full Fathom Five
And after all that, why not Shakespeare?
Inspired by the bard, the quartet of Marsella, Lage, Roede and Smith explore a suite of lovely, nocturnal pieces.
Of course some are slightly disturbing – that's in the nature of Shakespeare, the night and dreaming – but these are quite enchanting pieces and this quartet and its individual players is one to follow.
And when this swings it really rocks.
Yes, we kept the most approachable until last.
It's a cracker.
I Cried to Dream Again
These albums and others by John Zorn are available on order through Southbound Records in Auckland. See their website here