In 1990 I thought that I knew something about jazz and improvised music. At that time, my musical diet included mainly ECM LPs and cassettes (cds were, and still are, extremely expensive in Israel) with some Impulse! and Blue Note extras, and seeing concerts by the Marsalis brothers, Jack DeJohnette, Carla Bley with Steve Swallow, Jan Garbarek and Egberto Gismonti, and steadily reading Down Beat magazine at the American Cultural Center in Jerusalem.
One day, I was leafing through Rolling Stone and found a review of Naked City's first release. I knew nothing about the bandleader, but I knew guitarist Bill Frisell's work on a handful of ECM releases and had a Henry Cow LP that bassist Fred Frith played guitar on. I still have a photo-copy of that review by Gene Santoro, giving three and a half stars to that release. "Despite patches of relative calm and even innocence, ironic subversion lurks at every turn of phrase," he wrote. "Imagine the resulting spatter as a Jackson Pollock canvas, and you'll begin to understand how Naked City transforms everything it touches." I love Pollock paintings.
It took me several months to find a shop that imported such releases on special order, and then a long wait until I got the Naked City cassette. The first time I listened to it, at full volume in a rented flat with two flat mates whose musical diet consisted of daily listens to Pink Floyd's The Wall (the male) and Israeli folk songs (the female), I became Public Enemy No. 1 in a matter of seconds, but I was smitten. Never before had I been taken on such a wild ride - funny, frightening, brutal, brilliant, passionate, genius, daring, enlightening - it had everything I wanted and still want in the music that I listen to. It was a formative musical experience. I can only compare it to the first time that I listened to Coltrane's A Love Supreme ten years prior, while still serving in the Israeli army, amazed by the expressive and spiritual playing of Coltrane quartet.
I still hold that cassette as one of my most valued treasures. I now have dozens of discs by Zorn and his musical co-conspirators, and dozens more released on his label, Tzadik, including all the Naked City discs. I have seen him perform once, here in Jerusalem with the Masada quartet in 1994 (the concert that was released as Live in Jerusalem) and was involved in a production of Zorn's game piece Cobra at the 2003 Israel Festival. But still, if I may paraphrase Cat Stevens, the first cut is the deepest, and Naked City was the blade that made my first Zorn cut.
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