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VINE VOICEon March 25, 2005
This boxed set represents the entire recorded studio output of John Zorn's Naked City project, consisting of Zorn (alto sax, occasional vocals), Bill Frisell (guitar), Wayne Horvitz (keyboards), Fred Frith (bass), and Joey Baron (drums). Frequent collaborator Yamataka Eye joins as a vocalist on probably half of this. Additionally, this set includes a "vocal version" of "Grand Guignol", which Mike Patton overdubbed.

I'll talk about the packaging first-- the set is beautiful, nice white box, each of the five CDs housed in a digipack styled after the Zorn birthday CDs-- single page inside an envelope opposite a CD tray with some of the original artwork reproduced. The book is about a hundred pages of pictures, some stuff from zorn's notebooks that's quite fascinating and will likely require further inspection on my part to fully appreciate, and annoyingly hard to read clear pages with white print on which members of the band, fans, etc. comment.

The remastering-- the recordings are clean, loud, distinct, undistorted-- they've been mixed hot enough to sound great but really well done. There's stuff buried on here I missed in the original recordings, and I suspect more will reveal on repeated listenings.

Question has been called into the material present-- there's a disc with "Naked City", one with "Grand Guignol" (the album), with the new version of the title track appended to it (and the old one still intact), one for "Heretic", one for "Radio", and one for "Absinthe" with "Leng Tch'e" as well. This is ALL the material, INCLUDING "Torture Garden"-- that particular release was just the "hardcore miniatures" from "Naked City" and "Grand Guignol".

The music-- I'm not going to talk extensively about this here, I've reviewed each of the albums independently, but I'll touch on sort of themese a bit-- Mike Patton is quoted as saying "This band made the rest of the world sound fat and lazy". This is totally true, not only that, it made them sound dated-- Naked City's debut is sixteen years old now but is still sounds ten years ahead of the present time. The rest of the material follows suit.

"Naked City" (the album) is now referred to as jump-cut-- it switches genres, sometimes several times within a single song. The performance is of extraordinarily high quality, and this is one of the absolute great albums of recorded history.

Nearly as good is the followup, "Grand Guignol"-- consisting of three sections, the lengthy, haunting, title track, somehow sensual and mysterious, 34 hardcore miniatures (brilliant explosions of genre crossing-- one ("Speedfreaks") covers a different style every 2-3 seconds), and a series of classical covers performed in an "electric chamber" style, reminding us Zorn is capable of beauty and ugly. The bonus track, "Grand Guignol" with Patton-- I first wrote this review in March of 2005 and didn't enjoy it. After nearly eleven months of listening to this, suddenly, it makes sense. Patton seems to be in place as an alternate, providing mostly melodic statements in contrast to the rest of the music, and it fits, it works, and I now think it's a distinct improvement over the original. But it took me almost a year.

"Heretic" is a much more difficult, yet in many ways, much more rewarding album-- consisting of a style unique to the band, its a series of pieces involving some or all of the band members in a wide open style-- think of it as free jazz taken with punk's intensity and volume performed by masters of their instruments. It IS difficult, primarily because there are very few concessions made for the listener, but it is among the best work any of these men have ever done.

"Radio" is like jump cut slowed down, or like dialing through the radio-- each song exlores a different genre, or rather a different genre alloy. Because of this, its a bit more accessible than the other material, though I feel personally it succeeds a bit less. Still fantastic music, however.

"Absinthe" is probably the most difficult of the works here-- its sort of Naked City does ambient-- the music is in fact similar to the "Grand Guignol" title track, in that it builds and bubbles, but unlike "Grand Guignol", it never seems to reach its climax, and its certainly turned down a few notches in volume. Nonetheless, the intensity is maintained and it is stunning. Pairing it with "Leng Tch'e" is an odd choice, the latter is a 30 minute workout, similar in form perhaps though-- it builds through drudging metal and threatens to overpower nearly everything in its extended climactic moments-- five minutes of Zorn and Eye wailing before melting back to as it began.

If you've got the albums, I think this is probably worth the purchase. The set is lovely, and the sound is incredible. If you don't have this stuff, or you're new to Zorn, try out the self titled album first-- all the material is great, but this is a large investment when this is definitely not for everyone. Give it a try though, it may surprise you.
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on May 25, 2005
I'm not rating the music (that would be 5 stars!!!), I'm rating the audio quality. Though the overall sound quality is good (not as aggressive as the original discs), the entire "Radio" album and parts of the "Absinthe" disc (most obvious on the track "Leng T'che") suffer from unacceptable distortion in the left channel (in the low mids, depending on volume). At least my copy had this defect, so I returned it. I suspect that a mistake was made during the mastering process as my original Avant-Discs are not distorted at all. Or could it be an individual manufacturing issue? No other reviewer has mentioned this problem so far.

If you care for perfect sonics, I recommend listening to the following portions before buying. Pay attention to the left channel. Is it distorted?

Track 01 on "Radio" - time: 01:06 till 01:13

Track 10 on "Absinthe" - time: 04:16 till 04:40

These are only two random examples. The mentioned discs are distorted throughout. If others have clean sounding discs, I might just have had bad luck with my item.

Otherwise this expensive set is absolutely not worth it's high price. Tzadik should take it back and correct these mistakes first. Then I will be happy to buy it.

As for the book: nicely made, but lots of testimonials, no real information on the band and the music.

The package is hyperaesthetically designed.

If the abovementioned problems were nonexistent, I would not hesitate to rate it with 5 stars.
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on September 6, 2005
First of all, for all the writers here asking where Torture Garden is, why don't you read the booklet. It explains that Torture Garden was released as a special package compliling the hardcore pieces from Naked City and Grand Guignol. Nuff said.

As another reviewer mentioned, Joey Baron is not credited at all on the Heretic notes, which I too thought was really odd.

Other than that, I have no complaints about the remasters. Sounds fine on my stereo and through my headphones. I mean, I don't have a very expensive elaborate stereo system, but to these ears, everything sounds wicked. Even if there WAS a bit of overload, I wouldn't have a nervous breakdown over it. I can see why some people would get edgy over it, after shelling out 100 bucks though.

The new Grand Guignol mix with Mike's vocals is a bit disappointing. Even though I'm a big Patton fan, I think he overdid it on this one. There's vocals where they're not needed in too many places. I don't really think it needs vocals, the piece seems to be darker and more luminous without them. Adding a few vocal bits in certain sections might have added a new dimension to the mood, but Patton just blew off too much. (Sorry Mike) Still, it is an interesting treat to hear and it makes me wonder how all these albums would've turned out if Patton would've been the lead screamer.

Anyway, I think overall, the set is great. Is it worth buying if you have all the originals? Yes, I think so. The only thing I wish Zorn would've included is more history in the booklet, and perhaps another disc of outtakes or unreleased tunes. I'm sure there's tons of stuff sitting in the vaults that Zorn is keeping secret until he feels lile releasing another boxset. Maybe we'll even get the Miles Davis treatment with his work someday, like a 7-disc set of "The Complete Grand Guignol" sessions, with one disc full of EYE doing nothing but farting and belching.
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on February 13, 2006
I bought this set of Naked City's studio recordings on the strength of their reputation, without having heard any Naked City music. It's all great stuff. Every album of theirs has a different approach. They covered a huge amount of ground in their career.

For people who don't know a thing about what this is (unlikely if they're on this page), Naked City was a highly experimental group of jazz musicians playing music that wasn't exactly jazz. This music is some of the most original material I've heard in my life. Only Mike Patton has come close to replicating what Naked City accomplished. Composer John Zorn on alto sax, Bill Frisell on guitar, Joey Baron on drums, Wayne Horvitz on keys, and Fred Frith on bass. Their sound was often augmented by a lot of other instrumentation. Vocals in their music was provided by 'Eye', who created a whole lot of wordless noise in manic and creative fashion. All the musicians are top notch, and the music is expertly composed and requires virtuosity to play.

The packaging is awesome. Conveniently sized and easy to file, good quality cases and liner notes. The CDs have a uniform but still interesting look to them... each album's case is a different color and the colors seem to fit the albums well. The Naked City s/t is magenta, Grand Guignol is tan, Heretic is black, etc. The 100 page booklet is full of interesting stuff.

The music and artwork of Naked City was of an over-the-top, surreal, violent and dark nature. As a warning to potential buyers- much of the artwork contained in this box is gory (animated and otherwise), sexually explicit and sadomasochistic. However, nothing serves these albums better. At their darkest Naked City reminds me of finding enjoyment in killing, deformity and strange perversions.

"Naked City", the first album, is one of the 2 'fun' releases. This album is a mix of what's now called 'jump-cut' (played by bands like Patton's Fantomas) and twisted covers of older songs by Morricone and Coleman among others. It's enjoyable and fits in with my impressions of the city of NY, reminds me of night clubs. The band takes Jazz to extremes, playing occasionally at grindcore speed and adding squealing free solos to the mix. Other reviewers have given more complete descriptions of this style.

"Grand Guignol" is the first plunge into utterly disgusting blackness. Named after the French theater of horror, the title track is a disturbing ambient mindtrip. Some more jump-cut tracks are included (from the same sessions as the first album) but the 'fun' element of them is almost entirely sucked out, leaving only nihilistic craziness. The final tracks of the album are covers of various composers (I haven't heard the originals) that are actually quite beautiful while remaining dark and alien.

On "Heretic", it seems like the band is trying to imitate the sound of certain situations which the song titles represent... not the notes, mind you, the SOUNDS. The instruments are used to create ambient sound effects, occasionally little melodies or ideas, but the band rarely plays in time or to a tempo. Some of these are really quite effective, but I think which ones depends on the listener. Pretty out there. Not unlike Patton's 'Oltrazista', on which Zorn also plays sax.

"Radio" is similar in feel to the first album. Naked City plays songs in the styles of their influences, which include everything from Jazz musicians to Napalm Death to SPK. Thus, the album has minimalist grindcore songs, more traditional jazz, experiments, and a few jump-cut songs like "Krazy Kat".

"Absinthe" is a mind-bendingly dark ambient masterpiece. Patton tried his hand at this idea on Fantomas' Delirium Cordia, which is more unified than this album due to being one song. Every composition on Absinthe is beautifully insane and black in feeling, but they don't flow into each other as much as the aforementioned Delirium.

"Leng Tch'e" is also included on the "Absinthe" disk. It's 30 minutes of droning low guitar chords and screaming. Unorganized and very very loud. It's supposedly an imitation of a Chinese torture/execution method. Eye's vocals are beyond human. One of the most intense, violent recordings ever, but there's little to no musical value here. Some may love it, some may hate it.

All of these albums have a lot of depth and I have yet to totally absorb them.

I am a fan of Patton's reworked version of "Grand Guignol". True, it's not as dark, and Patton adds a bit too much, but he transforms the atmosphere into a more Fantomas-like feeling. Different but still great.

I think there IS a bit of distortion on the left channel at times, or at least a bit of static (I don't know if the actual sounds were clipped or degraded). The music is so revolutionary though that I can't in good conscience give it less than 5 stars. Everything is perfectly audible and the sound is EXCELLENT, perfect mixing. Also, 4 of these albums are no longer available at all.

People with any interest in Naked City should make this investment. Fans of Patton's stranger projects will almost surely enjoy it. Fans of noisy metal may enjoy it. Jazz listeners looking for something experimental may like this. It's a shame so much of this has gone unheard for so long.
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on March 10, 2005
First, I want to recommend purchasing this box directly from the Tzadik label at [...] It will cost you less and you will receive your package much more quickly. Amazon has to special order this item from them anyway before shipping it to you. Also, you will be able to provide more direct support to John Zorn's personal label!

If you are reading this, then you are likely familiar with much of the material included in this set. So I will spare you the tedious play-by-play. Here is the description as it appears on the Tzadik site:

"I have radically remastered this music with exacting and loving attention to every last detail. Mistakes have been corrected, balances adjusted and thanks to the latest in digital technology the music is louder, clearer, more in your face and exploding with more energy than ever before. Even if you already own all of the original discs, I strongly urge you to pick this set up and experience Naked City as it always should have sounded. " --John Zorn

Probably Zorn's most popular and most controversial musical project, the music of Naked City has been debated, analyzed, adored and reviled by fans, critics and academics alike, but nothing can replace the experience of hearing it in all its frightening glory. Most people know this music from the single domestic release on Nonesuch, but the major portion of their studio recordings were issued from 1989 - 1993 on the hard to find Japanese labels Avant and Toy's Factory. This long awaited set pulls together all of their recorded output - seven studio albums ( including five released only in Japan ) - on 5 CDs in beautiful new packaging, with a special 100 page scrapbook of Naked City ephemera, including photos, posters, designs, scores, musical sketches, written tributes by members of the Naked City family and pages from Zorn's original notebooks showing the development of the music that drove so many people out of their minds. Zorn's music at its most brutal and uncompromising best.

BONUS TRACK CREATED EXCLUSIVELY FOR THIS SET: A spectacular new vocal version of the 18' composition Grand Guignol featuring the charismatic singer from Fantomas, Mr. Bungle and Faith No More, Naked City Alumni Mike Patton. A tour de force concerto for voice and ensemble, finally realizing Zorn's long form composition as it was originally conceived.

I had previously heard about half of the material in this set. The remastering job is excellent! The packaging is sturdy and attractive. And the booklet is very informative - chock-full of artwork, photographs, quotes and much, much more! The discs also present the material in their original track orders:

Disc one: Naked City

Disc two: Grand Guignol (+ bonus track w/ Mike Patton)

Disc three: Heretic

Disc four: Radio

Disc five: Absinthe/Leng Tch'e

If you are interested in this band, or even if you already own previous versions of this material, I would highly recommend purchasing this package despite the daunting price tag! This is a very high-quality set!
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on January 5, 2006
Naked City's music isn't my cup of tea, but I will admit that this is some crazy music. The reason I got this box set was because of Bill Frisell. This is his most insane guitar work to date. He's never done anything like this before and never will. This set should be a lesson for those who are huge fans of Bill's, that he is fully capable of playing ANYTHING!!!

Naked City is the brainchild of the enigmatic alto sax player John Zorn, whose work is very well documented since his album "The Big Gundown," which is a great album and one of my favorite of his. Naked City's music is brutal, aggressive, in-your-face, no holds bard, painful, screaming, earth-shaking, and at times it can be beautiful and cerebral. All of these albums are remastered and they sound fantastic, despite what some people may say. I'm an audiophile, along with my Dad, and I think these albums sound better than the originals.

Another reason to buy this box set is because of the obvious it's for John Zorn fans and maybe one day it's not going to be around and the albums "Radio," "Heretic," "Grand Guignol," and "Absinthe" have been long out-of-print, so not only are you buying something that's contents are rare finds, but you're getting something that will never be done again.

Sure, I don't like all this music, but that doesn't mean that I can't appreciate what John Zorn and Naked City were doing and how innovative of a group they were. This box set is a good investment not just from a money standpoint, but also from a purely artistic one.

Naked City are the following:

Bill Frisell - guitar
John Zorn - alto sax
Joey Baron - drums
Fred Frith - bass
Wayne Horvitz - keyboards
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on April 18, 2015
I normally don't write reviews but I wanted to throw in my two cents on a few things that people have commented on about this box set.

1) There are a few reviews that say Joey Barton is not listed in the "Heretic" credits. I checked all the cards several times and all of them have all the band members credited. Very odd, my box set has Joey Barton and it sounds fine. I did buy from a third party seller. Maybe I got a fake??

2) I was expecting to see a completely smashed brick-wall job as far as the master goes. As an amateur (keyword: amateur) recording engineer going on 15 years I believe this box set does not sound as bad as people have said. I have an original Shimmy Disc copy of Torture Garden, one of my favorite albums of all time and compared to that master, the box set does sound a little different but definitely not bad enough to warrant trashing the sound quality and demanding a refund. The tracks seem to be only one, maybe two decibels louder than the originals, and EQ'd a little different (which I kind of like because the original Torture Garden was quite scratchy on the high end, odd for a Bob Ludwig piece). I personally would have opted to not "clean up" the tracks as much (they appear to have been run through a noise suppressor or dehisser of some kind, adding a slight digital shine at times) but overall, with the originals being so hard to find, this box set is more than adequate in the sound quality department. Granted, I have never heard originals of Grand Guignol or Leng Tch'e so I can't compare those masters but from what I've noticed, I really think that people are making a way to big a deal out of it.

As a whole, this box set kicks serious ass. The packaging is fantastic (though some of the cardboard on the individual Digipaks were scuffed when I first opened it). It's been out for about ten years now so the price has come down quite a bit. Mine was $71.25 through third party seller and the plastic shrink wrap looked like it had been sitting in a warehouse for a long time, hence the lower price and possibly the reason for the scuffs (hell, maybe I got a fake planted by Joey Barton to make sure his name is on every card). Bottom line: this is a one-stop-shop for all things Naked City and the masters are just fine considering how rare originals are. If you're a Naked City fan on the fence about buying this because of the negative reviews of the master, ignore them and buy it now before it's out of print!!
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on April 2, 2005
If you ask someone who is a fan of Naked City what they remember about their first listen, chances are you will be treated to a long and joyus conversation about how their lives were turned upside down by the beautiful and chaotic sounds they heard coming out of their speakers..........I am one of those people.

First off, the music sounds superb!!!!! Obviously Zorn put alot of time and effort into making all of the Naked City albums sound excellent. One of the highlights, for me at least, has been listening to the "hardcore miniatures" from "Naked City" and "Grand Guignol" remastered. It's akin to grabbing a drill and going full bore into your ears, everything sounds loud, violent and painful......just the way it was intended to be.

Second, the packaging is amazing!!! Most notably the hardbound booklet that comes with the set. It contains pictures of the band, album art, handwritten music notation and various quotes from various musicians, ranging from Mike Patton and Yamatsuka Eye to Sean Lennon and Eyvind Kang. In a nutshell this set is a must have for anyone who wants to know what pushing the boundaries of music sounds like. Buy it, kick back and enjoy.
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on April 1, 2005
This is a box set that Zorn should certainly be proud of. If you truly want to hear what the benefits of remastering sound like, buy this. The remastering job is superb, and makes the sickest music ever made explode even further. Check out Eye's scream at the end of "The Blade" from the Grand Guignol set. It's as if he's standing next to you, screaming into your ear. And the Debussy cover "La Cathedrale Engloutie" sounds huge and glorious. The quotes and sketches in the booklet are sometimes humorous, always genius, and are worthy additions to any Zornfreak's collection. The whole design of the set is brilliant and beautiful. I already own all of the CD's that Naked City has released, spending quite a bit of coin on those Avant Japanese imports, and this box set was still worth every penny. Revolutionary music!
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on April 25, 2008
The Complete Studio Recordings has been radically remastered by John Zorn and Scott Hull, making them available through this exclusive box-set from Tzadik Records. Naked City's music is now louder, clearer, and more intense than ever before. The Complete Studio Recordings comes with a specially printed 130 page booklet entitled "Eight Million Stories - Naked City Ephemera". A collector's edition and essential for those wanting to experience Naked City's music in the way it was intended.

Eight Million Stories - Naked City Ephemera is available inside the Naked City Box-Set. This exclusive ephemera contains all Naked City's original uncensored album artwork, promotional images, live photography, and even the Naked City Scrapbooks illuminating John Zorn's incredible genre-shifting compositions. This one-hundred and thirty page book includes testimonials where musicians and admirers have reflected on how Naked City's music has changed their life forever.
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