Thursday, September 25, 2008

the john zorn depository building

the second issue of eartrip, david grundy's digital magazine is out now. as before, david has worked long and hard to get this published so please give him your support... besides the assortment of reviews, interviews with british musicians etc, this issue includes an interesting presentation vs content experiment from anthony whiteford (bristolian improviser, and author of the superb cecil taylor article in issue 1)... and my own "defence" of john zorn, one of the most divisive figures in the entire creative music scene (i think it's fair to say!). specifically, the piece contains a brief - by my standards - track-by-track analysis of the dreamers, an album which came out earlier this year (and drew even more flak than usual).

so: not that i'm soliciting it, you understand (and i'm really not - little or no enthusiasm for emotive online arguments at present, far better uses for my time), but if anyone really wants to tear me apart over this, please do so by way of a comment on this post, rather than clogging up the rest of the blog with it..! as usual, anonymous tirades will elicit no response at all from me; if you want a reply, please leave a name - and try to be a bit more constructive than "zorn is shit, you're an idiot"..!

i am happy to talk about it (with anyone who is not foaming at the mouth) - i have been sitting here listening to derek bailey's wonderful standards, the original blueprints for what later became the famous ballads album... this whole project would never have existed if it weren't for zorn, and no, it's not cynical or a cash-in, he wasn't exploiting bailey or ripping off the listener... actually just the liner notes make that clear to me, revealing as they do that a) zorn and the baileys were close friends, b) the former had a great respect for, and understanding of the latter's music and c) as a producer, zorn knew straight away that something important was happening before anyone else did. so there... and i still like the dreamers too! [blows raspberry]

* * *

my package from new york finally arrived yesterday (held up in customs, why did i not see that coming). so beyond quantum is finally in my possession! and although i have not yet managed to hear the whole thing, i played some of it last night and early impressions are that yes, it's rather good... i still don't like that album title much (or the packaging, for a change!) but the music is definitely beyond something or other, and the recording stretches time, cramming large amounts of detail into small spaces... laswell doesn't get in the way either... i will try and write something about this album in due course. in any case, next post will be back to braxton...


ubu xxiii said...

Thanks for the link, cent.
I'd have no quarrels over a place in the sun for Zorn, tho I haven't heard the album.
His energy seems to be limitless in all fields. There was, incredibly enough, a 'Jazz file' series on him done by Steve Beresford, but covering more than a fraction of his activities in 2 hours or less is impossible.
No, I haven't heard all the recordings either, but I like enough of what I've heard.
His appearance on Ground-zero's 1st album reminds us of the great Japanese connection (didn't he live there for a while?) with 'Tokyo operations' & the Tzadik series on new Japan. I must admit I'm a sucker for Japanese noise.
To call his label & curating activities self-serving is wide of the mark & below the belt. What commercial cachet could there be in releasing Wadada Leo Smith's solo trumpet albums from the 1970s?
The 'Tribute to Derek Bailey' concert a few years back must have been hell to curate, because some people were bound to moan, whatever the choices made. What I thought were token performances on the occasion by Bryars & Laswell were more than compensated by hearing George Lewis live for the 1st time.
Alexander Hawkins too is a musician I try to plug from time to time on the BBC site. I think he's gOt it, man.

centrifuge said...

ubu xxiii, thanks as always for your thoughts. i didn't hear the jazz file on zorn (though like you say...), but "energy limitless in all fields" would seem to sum him up. bailey said in an interview that all conversations with zorn go "yeah, yeah, great, yeah" from one side - or words to that effect - but he was being affectionate. (of course, that is another pretext for some cynics to accuse zorn of dilettantism etc)... i believe he did live in japan, i've heard him frequently described as being fluent in the language too. japanese noise is still good with me :-D

i must admit that alexander hawkins - he must have one of those dangerously-nondescript british names, i thought i had no idea who he was till i looked at d's interview and realised i had in fact heard him before... hmmm...

ubu xxiii said...

Yes, good old David Grundy..
Eddie Prévost's critique of Zorn, which you may have read anyway appears in LMC periodical 'Resonance' vol.8 no.1 or in EP's book 'Minute particulars'. He objects mainly to what he sees as Zorn's cultural Zionism as an isolationist tactic; well, I happen to think Zorn's take on the world is a lot wider than that, but recently I read a coversation with Mike Heffley where Braxton was questioning the foregrounding of what happened to European Jews from 1933-45 as THE holocaust. Not to belittle the horror of any of it, even Jews in Spain c.1492 went thru something similar. Braxton cites the cultural genocide of native Americans after the European invasion; you could add Armenia 1916, the Albigensians in the 13th century, Tasmania's vanished natives, the gypsies, communists, mentally ill & 'degenrate' folks in general sent to Nazi camps.
Interestingly EP in that article also attacks Wynton Marsalis & the the Lincoln centre project for another kind of cultural isolationism.

centrifuge said...

mmm... no, i haven't read prevost's article, so of course i'm not going to try and form an opinion on it (!) - religion and politics are two subjects from which i tend to steer scrupulously clear, though inevitably my ethical and spiritual concerns do bring me up against them, if only because these topics are of great import to others with some of the same interests as me... but in the meantime, i am not deeply familiar *either* with zorn's own philosophical take on his (or anyone else's) jewishness *or* with the various objections to it. i find his contributions to music such that i can easily live without digging into areas which don't interest me that much anyway ;-) perhaps at some point i will change my mind about all this.

tell you what though, i don't see any prima facie evidence of linking zorn's presence in the world up to the lincoln centre, which itself is (surely) a CLEAR example of an official institution being bankrolled in order specifically to exclude and disempower the "enemy" rather than to *promote* anything whatsoever... it's not as if zorn refuses to play with gentiles, now is it? but this is a rhetorical question to mr prevost..!

D.J. Huppatz said...

Dear Centrifuge
I know I'm real late on this one but I've only just looked at the Grundy magazine and just had to reply to this one. Your Zorn piece was great, but I'm not sure why the defensive approach was necessary. Maybe there is some resistence in the "jazz" world.
I think you could add to your account Zorn's opening of a club on the Lower East Side, the Stone back in 2005, which plays improv music six nights a week - an interesting project in that each month is curated by a different musician. It's a small no nonsense space (no merchandise, no food or drink, just the music at a reasonable price). This seems another admirable community-building project that is very eclectic in its programming (depends who's curating) - like a live version of Tzadik perhaps.
But I really wanted to mention the fact that the last time I saw Zorn play was (check this out) with Masada on a double bill with Cecil Taylor at The Lincoln Center. That was either late 2006 or early 2007. A bizarre double act, but nonetheless, two big time "enemies" in the Lincoln Center on the one night. I was looking around for Wynton in the crowd but couldn't spot him.

centrifuge said...

d.j., thanks... some resistance to zorn in the jazz world? just a bit, and even in the "free" world to some extent. the stone represents one of the more recent acts of the "popular" zorn, the catalyst, generally liked (by musicians in particular) - some people grudgingly like him for his contributions to (other people's) music even if they insist they detest everything else about him. as you can see, this is not my own view...

masada and c.t. at the lincoln centre, that really is extraordinary - seems almost incredible that the notoriously awkward taylor would even agree to play there! you don't mention whether or not you enjoyed the gig..?

D.J. Huppatz said...

Oh yeah, sorry, I very much enjoyed the gig - but it really was two separate gigs - Masada's last (rumored to be) and then Taylor's AHA3 trio with Grimes and Aklaff. I had seen neither of these groups before so was looking forward to seeing both - sortof killing two birds with one stone for me. But the audience was a little strange - older crowd, relatively conservative, with a sprinkling of younger presumably Zorn fans. Certainly not a sellout crowd either. I think the concert hall gave both groups a different feeling - in such a space maybe everything seems more formal.

NY Times review here:

On the issue of Zorn and the free jazz scene, I think there may be some anomosity, but it may be overstated as Zorn has played at the Vision Festival (perhaps THE free jazz annual festival in NY) and likewise all the free players have played the Stone at different times. & of course Tzadik is pretty inclusive. The free jazz scene still seems to stress the importance of a respect for a certain tradition, I guess Zorn has respect, but for too many traditions! It's almost as if free jazz has boxed itself in to a certain purity of approach. Zorn's anti-purity is part of the appeal to a particular audience.

There is, finally, the issue of audience - free jazz was associated with a particularly black audience and black politics in the US through the 60s and 70s. Now its audience is varied but generally older and mixed in terms of race. The audience at the Stone and Zorn's in general is younger and predominantly white. While these may be generalisations, there are certainly different demographics at work I can't quite put my finger on. At least in a NY context.

centrifuge said...

well d.j., of course i don't claim to speak for "free jazz purists" on this issue (or any other!) - though i did often find myself taking up the cause of free jazz as opposed to jazz, for reasons ultimately political (i.e. concerning the deployment and corralling of power)... i say "did" cos i never have time for that shit these days, though i daresay i shall return to it eventually... for me it's a question of rightful ownership of the self as opposed to accepting ones role in the "circus"...

...but in any case you will just have to take my word for it that a great many creative music fans really dislike j.z.! or don't... but in any case a quick harvest of the web would doubtless yield fruits... plenty of bloggers (etc) both for and against zorn. if you want to know about *the dreamers* specifically then allmusic's is the ONLY good review i have read, not that i seek such things out on the whole ;-)

- same applies to the opinions of the broadsheets, either here in the u.k. or across the pond! but thanks for sending it on, i did read it... incidentally for furture ref you might like to use - here's one i made earlier:

the most interesting detail supplied by the reviewer is one you neglected to mention, but it sums up perfectly why it is *not* yet appropriate to adopt a "classless society" argument vis-a-vis the "avant-garde" and its acceptance into the pantheon: c.t.'s set was cut short by the house. such flagrant disrespect would surely never be shown to one of the "chosen few"?

anyway... thanks again - concerts both sound great, c.t's new trio must be superb surely... grimes, of course, intimately associated with taylor's music BEFORE he vanished... has he played it in public since his return? and masada... well, as you know i like them but it's probably not such a bad idea to put the band to rest... the chances of the four of them ever being able to tour again are non-existent anyway, can always reform for a one-off *anniversary special* at some point :)