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Matthew Shipp : Magnetism(s) (RogueArt)

The creative NY jazz trio led by pianist Matthew Shipp with Rob Brown on alto sax and flute and William Parker on bass re-release and re-master their 1999 Bleu Regards album "Magnetism", a 20-part suite of concise and informed dialogs; and add a live CD of the trio recording three larger "Magnetism" improvisations capture live at the Stone, 2016. ... Click to View


Larry Ochs / Sax and Drumming Core: Wild Red Yellow (RogueArt)

Rova leader Larry Ochs takes his Sax and Drumming Core to the next level with this charged album of mind-bending album of free improvisation with an hallucinatory edge, joined by Libra artists Satoko Fujii on piano & synth and Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, with Scott Amendola on drums, William Winant and Matthias Bossi on a wild set of percussive instruments. ... Click to View


The Seen: Archive: Volumes I - V (2005 - 2009) [5-CD BOX SET] (Confront)

Since 2005 bassist and percussionist Mark Wastell has been organizing concerts of ever-changing groups of improvising musicians under the collective name The Seen, using predominantly improvised material with occasional instructions or themes, here presented in 5 CDs, each a complete concert recorded at venues including Cafe Oto, Red Rose Theatre, &c. ... Click to View


Nicole Mitchell : Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds (FPE Records)

The second astounding album from Chicago Flutist Nicole Mitchell on the FPE label, continuing her project in the sphere of Sun Ra and Afrofuturists, merging fiction, fantasy and sound in an electro-chamber octet, encompassing contemporary classical, globally oriented fusion, gospel, avant-rock, spoken word, and funk-inspired groove research. ... Click to View


Nicole Mitchell : Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds [VINYL] (FPE Records)

The second astounding album from Chicago Flutist Nicole Mitchell on the FPE label, continuing her project in the sphere of Sun Ra and Afrofuturists, merging fiction, fantasy and sound in an electro-chamber octet, encompassing contemporary classical, globally oriented fusion, gospel, avant-rock, spoken word, and funk-inspired groove research. ... Click to View


Michael Foster / Ben Bennett: In It [CASSETTE] (Astral Spirits)

The second release for the duo of Ben Bennett on drums, percussions and membranophones, and Michael Foster on tenor, soprano, sopranino saxophones and aerophone, in uniquely voiced improvisations that develop both carefully and, at times, erratically, but always with an ear to interesting dialog that captivates and confuses the listener. ... Click to View


Andrew Smiley : Dispersal [CASSETTE] (Astral Spirits)

An uncommon solo guitar album from Andrew Smiley, a member of Little Women and the Chris Pitsiokos Quartet, creating textures on the guitar by applying unconventional techniques with his pick and fingers instead of using effects or guitar preparations, and accompanying himself on voice in Haino-esque ways, creating an album of sharp contrast and color. ... Click to View


Emmanuelle Waeckerle : Ode (owed) to O [2 CDs] (Edition Wandelweiser Records)

London-based composer Emmanuelle Waeckerle in a project of spoken word, flute and melodica with contributors including Antoine Beuger, using minimal and multiple narrations in texts that blend erotic literature, conceptual writing and verbal scores, presented as 2 Scores for voice(s) and instrument(s) based upon Pauline Reage's "Story of O". ... Click to View


HMS (Joe Houpert / Nathan McLaughlin / Erich Steiger): Tetrad [CASSETTE] (Astral Spirits)

Blurring the lines between experimental music, improv, and composition, the trio of Joe Houpert, Nathan McLaughlin, and Erich Steiger use the studio to rework their improvisations, accenting aspects of the acoustic and electronic elements and morphing them in unexpected ways; "think Henry Flynt meets Cluster meets Revolutionary Ensemble". ... Click to View


W-2 (Sam Weinberg / Chris Welcome): Fanatics [CASSETTE] (Astral Spirits)

The Brooklyn duo of saxophonist Sam Weinberg (Captain Phillips) and synth player Chris Welcome (Chris Pitsiokos, Mike Pride) in an album of abrasive, rhythmically abraded and contorted electro-acoustic improvisation, each player embedding themselves into each other's sound, at time making their instruments indistinguishable from one another. ... Click to View


Steve Lacy: Free for a Minute (1966-72) [2 CDs] (Emanem)

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Paul Rutherford : In Backward Times (1979-2007) (Emanem)

Four very different previously unissued concert settings featuring trombonist Paul Rutherford: 2 festival solos - one from 1979 with electronics and one from 2004 without; a 1988 duo with Paul Rogers a few months before their ROGUES CD; and a 2007 trio with Veryan Weston and Marcio Mattos, which turned out to be Rutherford's last public appearance. ... Click to View


Barry Guy: Frogs [VINYL 7-inch PICTURE DISC] (Trost Records)

A 7" limited vinyl picture disc made to celebrate legendary European Free Jazz bassist Barry Guy's 70th birthday, with Guy providing "acoustic sounds" along with his collaborating frogs, Wasserfrosch (Rana Esculenta) and Laubfrosch (Hyla Arborea), size A presenting Frogs & Barry Guy, and side 2, Barry Guy & Frogs; quirkly and wonderful free improv. ... Click to View


Christian Wolff : Berlin Exercises [VINYL] (God Records)

A series of shorter works composed by Christian Wolff written to explore the process of practicing and working within specified limits, exercises for both the composer and the performers, recorded live in Berlin in 2000 by an ensemble directed by Peter Ablinger and including Wolff on piano & melodica, Robin Hayward on tuba, Anette Krebs on guitar, &c. ... Click to View


Phill Niblock: Rhymes With Water [VINYL] (God Records)

A beautiful set of minimalist compositional drone from New York composer Phill Niblock, commissioned by the performers Natalia Pschenitschnikowa on bass flute and Erik Drescher on glissando flute, recorded at PIETHOPRAXIS, in Cologne, Germany by Marcus Schmickler, and in Berlin, Germany, by Thomas Ankersmit. ... Click to View


Simon Rummel Ensemble: IM MEER (Umlaut Records)

German composer and improviser Simon Rummel presents the 2nd release from his 11-piece Simon Rummel Ensemble, blending his interest in acoustic phenomena and improvisational harmonics in an extended work that shift from beautiful tonal work to disruptive cacophony and back to melodic music, blending jazz and 20th century approaches; a great achievement. ... Click to View


Joe McPhee / Bryan Eubanks: My Undocumented Alien Clarinet [VINYL] (Penultimate Press)

Recorded and presented as part of Pauline Oliveros Foundation's New Vanguard Series in Kingston, NY in 2006, the unusual duo of Joe McPhee on b-flat and e-flat alto clarinets and synthesizer and Bryan Eubanks on open circuit electronics explores unusual dynamics and psychoacoustic intersections of both acoustic and electronic instruments. ... Click to View


Blaise Siwula / Jorge Nuno: Waterscapes (Creative Sources)

Waterscapes is the performing duo of New York saxophonist Blaise Siwula and guitarist Jorge Nuno, interwining distinct approaches to acoustic and electric improvisation, creating rich sound environments and rapid interaction that draws the listener in and then sweeps them off their feet with passionate, complex and informed dialog. ... Click to View


Carlo Mascolo: My Tubes (Creative Sources)

A unique take on this large brass instrument from Italian trombonis and Free Flow Festival director Carlo Mascolo, using preparations, focusing on components of the instrument, and using extreme techniques to create a startlingly diverse set of sounds, vocalisations, microtonal output and simply bizarre utterances as Mascolo brings new language to horn. ... Click to View


Alfredo Monteiro Costa / Miguel A. Garcia: Aq'Ab'Al (Mikroton Recordings)

Audio experimenters Alfredo Costa Monteiro and Miguel A. Garcia join forces in an album titled after "Aq'ab'al", the Mayan Astrology Sign about polar opposites-- dawn and dusk, hot and cold, black and white--which represents renewal and change, through a series of opposing audio events, forceful sounds of texture, feedback, and intervention. ... Click to View


John Butcher / John Edwards / Mark Sanders: Last Dream Of The Morning (Relative Pitch)

A studio album between three UK master improvisers -- John Butcher on sax, John Edwards on double bass, and Mark Sanders on drums -- the trio pushing the envelope in technique and dialog in nearly telepathic playing that transports the listener into their environment, as the music builds and releases in effortless ways that are stunning and exulant; highly recommended. ... Click to View


Fred Van Hove / Roger Turner: The Corner (Relative Pitch)

Pioneering improvising pianist Fred Van Hove at UK's Cafe OTO for the first time, captured in a duo with UK drummer/percussionist Roger Turner, their first recording together, for a night of exceptional improvised interplay, sophisticated and complex playing that is constantly buoyant and charming, an enthralling conversation between two veteran players. ... Click to View


Magda Mayas / Jim Denley: Tempe Jetz (Relative Pitch)

A pairing of two innovative players, Berlin-based pianist Magda Mayas and Australian sound and wind artist Jim Denley, Mayas playing inside and out of the piano and Denley on alto sax and bass flute, both providing field recordings adding unexpected elements in a set of extremely balanced recordings that entrance the listener with unlikely and captivating settings. ... Click to View


John Butcher: Resonant Spaces [VINYL] (Blume)

Extreme acoustic space recordings from saxophonist John Butcher, part of Arika's Resonant Spaces event, with performances from resonant and remote corners of Scotland. ... Click to View


Lean Left: I Forgot To Breathe (Trost Records)

The 7th album from the quartet of Netherlands guitarists Andy Moor and Terrie Hessels (The Ex) with Chicago free improvising multi-reedist Ken Vandermark and Netherlands drummer/percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love in an album balancing amazing energy with profound introspective moments in thrilling edge-of-your-seat improvisation - excellent! ... Click to View


Lean Left: I Forgot To Breathe [VINYL] (Trost Records)

The 7th album from the quartet of Netherlands guitarists Andy Moor and Terrie Hessels (The Ex) with Chicago free improvising multi-reedist Ken Vandermark and Netherlands drummer/percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love in an album balancing amazing energy with profound introspective moments in thrilling edge-of-your-seat improvisation - excellent! ... Click to View


Kontakte Trio (Trevor Taylor / Ian Brighton / Steve Beresford): Kontakte Trio (FMR)

An important and well-matched trio of electroacoustic improvisers, and a welcome addition to guitarist Ian Brighton's return to active music life, with Steve Beresford on piano, prepared piano and electronics, and Trevor Taylor (Circuit) on percussion and electronics, six unhurried improvisations of intricate interplay and interchange themed on physics. ... Click to View


Viv Corringham / Lawrence Casserley: Anemoi (FMR)

Lawrence Casserley is a pioneer of real time electroacoustic music, since the 60s working with other artists and developing his Signal Processing Instrument, using physical gestures to process and morph sounds; here he works with British vocalist and Deep Listening teacher Viv Corringham in an other-worldly collaboration of voice and electonics. ... Click to View


Kamins / Smith / Fielder / Hertenstein: After Effects (FMR)

A great example of traditional free improvisation spanning generations from the quartet of Danny Kamins on baritone saxophone, Damon Smith on double bass, and two drummer/percussionists--Alvin Fielder and Joe Hertenstein--for 10 tracks of swinging free music recorded in the studio in Texas, 2016, jazz with a lyrical intention and powerful rhythmic underpinnings. ... Click to View


Pat Thomas: The Elephant Clock of Al Jazari [VINYL] (Otoroku)

Inspired by the automatic water clock invented by Iraq inventor, engineer, and father of robotics, Badi' al-Zaman ibn al-Razzaz al-Jazari built in the 12th century, pianist Pat Thomas recorded these four exceptional improvisations of powerful solo piano with an unusual and inventive twist live at London's Cafe Oto in 2015. ... Click to View


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  Mike Hammer, Les Baxter and the Jewish People  

The Many Tribes of John Zorn


By Skip Heller 2003-08-22


Photo: Peter Gannushkin
The American assessment of art and artists has always put a weighty premium on age. That an artist turns 50 is a huge thing in terms of our view of him and his art. It gives us a chance to salute him for outliving Charlie Parker, Anton Webern, Hank Williams or Jimi Hendrix. And it gives us a chance to level condemnation on him for no longer being a source of constant surprise.

This month, John Zorn turns 50. He is no longer The Angry Young Man, and critics from publications that cater to a different segment of the world's cultural community will try and elucidate what his work has meant up to now, who he has influenced, how he has influenced them, and what it means.

This society generally, and the subculture Zorn represents specifically, each have age issues. The unwritten law seems to be that progress is the purview of the young, and that brevity of vision is exclusive to those who still have youthful folly going for them. In the avant garde, there is always a need for whatever is supposed to be next.

This youthful folly factor frequently results in shallow music characterized by a disregard for history. Not always, but often. Zorn, on the other hand, is soaking in history. From re-introducing Sonny Clark's Blue Note recordings through Mancini and into Jewish literature, Zorn is forever seeking precedent and tradition, often aligning himself with musicians not inherently loved within his community. Blue Note house organist Big John Patton leaps to mind.

The avant garde also has a definite "fuck the blues" faction in its midst, which Zorn has never bought into. And it usually takes a Zorn or a box set from Revenant to introduce these noodleheads to this most enduringform. I doubt they get it (the recent scholarly essays on Charley Patton are a fucking joke). But Zorn gets it.

Another interesting mountain on the Zorn map is his embrace of certain postwar/pre-Kennedy instrumental popmusic. In the 1980s, few things could have been less fashionable than to embrace the exotica of Les Baxter or the lite jazz of Henry Mancini, but there was Zorn (along with the unsung WNYC DJ David Garland) mounting on-air marathons of the stuff, doing more to lay the groundwork for the rediscovery of that music than any of the fez-wearing lounge-oid hipsters could ever know or will ever admit. To that crowd, "loungecore" represented another clothing fad and excuse for knowing irony.

But one listen to Zorn's record Spillane tells us that he saw it as music, real music that rated better treatment than irony. I get the sense that he saw it as a postwar expression of national optimism, but with a kind of deep, dark question attatched.

I doubt that most of the people reading this have an extensive background in the 1950s Mike Hammer novels (actually, take that up to 1966 to include The Twisted Thing, the last of the classic Hammers, seeing as the two '90s comeback novels, The Killing Man and Black Alley, really sucked). Those of the academe tend to single out Spillane generally and I, The Jury specifically as junk.

Piss on that and piss on them. Mickey Spillane was a great storyteller, and he had the concerns of his audience very much at heart. When Jury went into its first printing in 1948, it addressed a very specific need. His readers were men, men who had just come back from World War II. They had just been part of the largest thing they would ever be part of and were collective heroes. Their struggles and victories were celebrated in songs, films, on billboards, and more. They had been to places many of them could not even have dreamt of previously, had made love to French prostitutes, shot enormous guns, kicked Hitler's ass, and struggled daily to stay alive in the most threatening conditions known to humankind. Then they came back home to Sandusky, Ohio (or places like that), to regular jobs behind the wheels of trolley cars or on factory assembly lines. Yes, they were happy to see their loved ones again. But being shrunk back down to normal life-size after having been huge and heroic created a spiritual itch in their collective sense of self and few authors scratched it. Spillane was probably the only novelist who wrote in their language, and who gave them a larger than life hero -- Mike Hammer -- with whom they could identify. He talked the way they talked, fought and fucked the way they felt they fought and fucked. He gave them a Walter Mitty outlet that suited their self-image as big tough guys who lived honestly in a brutal and dishonest world. Reading a Mike Hammer book, you were no longer just some guy who pulled the lever on a piece of equipment in some tuna cannery. You were the guy men wanted to be, the guy women wanted.

I think Zorn understood this aspect of Mickey Spillane. In fact, I'm sure of it. I read all the Hammer novels when I was in high school (usually with the Peter Gunn soundtrack playing in the background). What Mike Hammer prized above all things was humanity, friendship, and justice. And, looking back on Spillane the album, which came out in 1987, I see it now as a very brave work.

I don't think its bravery is in the jump-cut construction for which Zorn was celebrated at the time. I see it as brave in its loving attitude towards Spillane and the world he represented. Looking back at 1987 and thereabouts, I see a lot of alienation in popular American culture. Sam Kinison was probably our most famous comedian, and he was definitely loud and alienated. The emergent songwriter du jour was Lyle Lovett, whose penchant for ironywas as notable as his haircut. Jim Jarmusch had become everyone's darling. It was the time of guys like Oliver North, and being detatched was probably our best defense as smart people.

But Zorn's clear affection for Spillane was not detached, nor was it at all ironic. It was real. His love for Spillane's New York glistened like holy water. And there was something about the quickness and toughness of the piece, with its myriad of music bursts, text, noise, and sound effects, that said "We can all have big dicks and fists of steel if we only believe." Spillane was about the American ideal of pioneering spirit, toughness, and compassion as much as it was ever about Mike Hammer.

As great as many of Zorn's subsequent records were, most notably those with Naked City, I don't think he got as personal again until Masada. Somehow, I see Naked City as the brainchild of a guy who had discovered and was comfortable with himself. There's a confidence there that somehow only comes with being a journeyman. With NC, I think it became official that Zorn was no longer in a formative period.

But Masada is different. I think largely because Zorn was rediscovering himself through Jewish music, which I get the feeling was something he had not yet absorbed as thoroughly and as internally as he had absorbed, say, Charles Ives or Carl Stalling. So he took us on that journey with him, to discover that music his way with him.

More than at any time in his career, I've gotten the sense that Zorn has let the music take the wheel. The thoughts and emotions expressed in the Masada music - and Kristallnacht, which can likely be taken as an orchestral outgrowth of those same emotions - sound to me like the most basic ones in his heart and mind. They're the largest canon of pieces in his catalog at this point.

Zorn has said he conceived the Masada music as "a book of tunes the way Thelonious Monk had a book of tunes," andI believe it. No music he's ever made has had more immediacy and universal flexibility than the Masada music.

The development of Masada seemed to coincide with the 1995 formation of Tzadik, Zorn's American record label.The marketplace was suddenly flooded with discs that gave us a view into seemingly every aspect of Zorn's musical universe. About the only musician of concern to Zorn absent from the roster seems to have been Phil Woods. Everything from Asian bar bands to Milford Graves to Radical Jewish Culture was represented with a prolific release schedule. And Zorn himself started releasing more of his own music than anyone since Frank Zappa. As I write this, the All Music Guide lists 58 Zorn releases on Tzadik and seven on Avant, plus about ten Masada's on DIW. Few people own the entire Zorn-releated catalogue, and fewer still like all of it. Like Zappa's, the diversity and sheer size of Zorn's catalogue is daunting.

Masada has been the most enduring Zorn project, probably because it's the most stripped-down and, on that level, immediate from a compositional standpoint. Also, it seems to give Zorn the most facets for his expression.

Recently, I saw Masada play a benefit for Tonic in New York's Lower East Side with Ben Perowsky filling in for Joey Baron. My wife and I took a cab down to the club. I had never seen Zorn live before this night. I had listened to a ton of his records, had spoken to him on the phone a few times, whatever. But I had never seen him in the flesh. Greg Cohen introduced us, and we embraced, and immediately started jabbering enthusiastically about Les Baxter. A few minutes later, my wife and I went into the main room of the club. I've seen Dave Douglas a bunch of times, ditto Greg Cohen. Perowsky was wonderful, which I expected.

The real shock of the evening was the saxophonist. We've all hit ourselves over the head with "Zorn as icon" so many times that it's almost like an ambush when we're confronted with Zorn the player.

I will say this: I think the reason he's been so successful is that no other avant garde musician has been nearly so able to get down. I'm not talking about note-per-second(although he's in pretty good shape there). I'm talking about something that has been forgotten in the saxophone mainstream since the post-Trane advent. I'm talking about something Gene Ammons understood but that Wayne Shorter probably wouldn't. I mean, Zorn can get up in a bar and get it over, the old way.

Composition - not spontaneous composition, but finite composition (i.e. dots on paper) - gives you a chance to rethink and retool your way to your ideal conception. Taking a solo in the moment doesn't. You're exposed for who or what you are in the moment, even if you're John Zorn. Especially if you're John Zorn. Game theory this, index card that, Radical Jewish the other -- nobody gives a rat's ass in the moment. You put the horn in your mouth, that's what it is.

And you could tell it all came down to Zorn playing the alto saxophone. There were the snorks, squeaks, sputters, and screams that we all know and love. There were long, beautiful lines, spiked with blues and Jewish motifs. And, in all that, there was a command of music and sonic language, a real sound, and the ability to get it over in a way that says more about Maceo Parker than John Coltrane.

It was a wonderful little set. I'll spare you any review past that.

That night, I thought about the way we spoke of Baxter and Mancini, as excited fans. And I thought of the exuberance of Zorn's playing. It's clear to me that what John Zorn primarily wants to do, at least with Masada, is make music that will excite him as much as those Baxter records excite him.

Les Baxter turned 50 in 1971, largely forgotten by an industry in which he was once a giant. He was still prolific, but was tethered to the world of B-movies, and had just made his last album Que Mango. He watched Henry Mancini's continued success with some bitterness, and took his comfort in material success. All those B-movies landed on the Late Late Show, and his broadcast residuals from that action were quite considerable.



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