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It's hard to find a contemporary musician more eclectic than alto saxophonist John Zorn. Whether investigating the affinity between traditional Jewish music and jazz with his band Masada, or performing soundtrack music for Japanese porno films, Zorn has consistently proven himself a fearless seeker of new frontiers. On Naked City, Zorn combines covers of such movie themes as Ennio Morricone's "The Sicilian Clan," Jerry Goldsmith's "Chinatown," John Barry's "James Bond Theme," and Johnny Mandel's "I Want to Live" with his own noir-inflected originals, and a "Peter Gunn"-like cover of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" is thrown in for good measure. The results are like a trip to the drive-in for a bad double-feature--if the drive-in is on Mars. The band, which features Zorn stalwarts Bill Frisell on guitar, Wayne Horvitz on keyboards, Fred Frith on bass, and Joey Baron on drums, is remarkably confident and wide-ranging. --Fred Goodman
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The lead-off track is a big early standout because it marries punk-metal riffs with a soaring saxophone line to create a sound that evokes John Zorn's take on what the "Batman" theme song should sound like. (Yes, you read that right: the "Batman" theme! But hey, it's Zorn's band/album, so he can do whatever the Sam hill he pleases!) And a couple of later tracks, including "A Shot In The Dark," further this "old-timey T.V. show soundtrack" vibe. And "The Sicilian Clan" is another piece of easy-listening pop rock (it actually sounds not unlike the radio-hit "Somebody That I Used To Know"), thanks to its extensive use of cool and jazzy-sounding saxophone soloing. But there are plenty of tunes that launch the listener back to the extreme side of the line, too, including "You Will Be Shot." This is a viscerally-satisfying number that careens all over the friggin' map, from full-on metallic riffing to dissonant noisecore to grind to thrash. And it is also filled with noise-derived saxophone squeals and smashing percussion blasts.
Elsewhere, another of the record's more noteworthy tracks is the very punky and funky "Snagglepuss," which almost comes across sounding like a Primus b-side. (But the keyword there is "almost," because "Snagglepuss" is much more brutal and off-the-rails than anything that that band has ever recorded.) A few of the remaining tracks, like "Latin Quarter" (a comparatively epic tune, since it clocks in at past four-minutes in length), "I Want To Live," and "Lonely Woman" delve into Fifties-era jazz, with a jazz bar-esque piano line and elegantly jazzy saxophone soloing. But for every moment of breathtaking beauty that is present, here, there is also at least one moment of punishing, unnervingly dissonant brutality. In fact, "Naked City"'s mid-section is almost pure grindcore, as it is comprised of a string of songs that bring to mind "Scum"-era Napalm Death. Indeed, "Ingenous E," "Blood Duster," "Hammerhead" (which is only a mere eleven seconds deep), "Obeah Man," "F The Facts," and the aptly-entitled "Speedball" are all extremely discordant, frantic, and frenzied blasts of noisegrind overflowing with driving, pummeling grindcore blasts and saxophone squeals. (Also make sure you take note of two of the aforementioned song titles, as the modern-day grindcore bands Blood Duster and F The Facts both got their respective names from these tracks.)
But immediately after this slew of uncompromising bludgeons winds to a close, Zorn drops in a piece like "Chinatown," which instills a very sharp sense of dynamics and contrast with its very calm, cool, and soothing musicianship. And one more example of the album's more noteworthy tracks is "Reanimator," because it features both a drum solo (and a really dexterous and thunderous one, at that), and a piano solo (in its outro).
True, "Naked City" is anything but a normal-sounding and/or commercially-accessible release. But even if you do not walk away from this record humming any memorable melodies or even recalling any of the individual punches that comprised your fifty-three-and-a-half-minute long beat-down, just remember: That is part of what makes this such a genius, innovative, and unique-sounding effort. As such, it should definitely be considered a definite listen for all open-minded music fans, and purveyors of jazz, avant-garde metal, and grindcore. After all, this is one album that is as unpredictable as it is rewarding.
Although Naked City has more to their discography, and worth checking out (get it with the other albums in the complete studio recordings), their debut, is worth owning even if you don't want the rest of their discography (kind of easy to understand if you ask me). Easily the most fun John Zorn album I have ever heard, the band tackles different styles with ease and can easily move around each with even greater ease. And when Naked City is soft, unleashed, leashed, mysterious (you'd think that from the Chinatown theme song), fun, jazzy, you name it!!! If it happens to not have something you like, life gives you lemons sometimes.
This album is consistent, fun, and all varied with the many moods of music. This album goes by pretty fast for me, since there is always something that catches you. Out of all I've heard of the band playing, the debut is their best playing, ever. John Zorn's blasts of saxophones are focused and add the all of the chaos, beauty, style, suaveness, who knows?! He hardly is the focus, as every player on here, in a phrase, is the ______. Fred Firth and Joey Baron are insane on the rhythm, doing everything they can to the best of their abilities, resulting in some excellent music. Wayne Horovitz plays crazy cool piano, how does he get that tone in the beginning of The Sicilian Clan? Bill Frisel is a monster guitarist, playing licks, sweet walls of dissonant melodies, soulful playing, and monster noises to back up Zorn, and more! Perhaps a bit cliched when describing the people, but I am not really a very creative person, despite my love for creativity in general (hey, the same thing is boring, alright?!).
There is plenty of songs on here to satisfy your musical thirst, regarding if you like the genres being played here. The hardcore pieces are tight, well focused, and don't feel any dated. and Eye is one insane vocalist, that scream on Demon Sanctuary is priceless. The theme songs on here deliver the goods, so if you like the theme song, you will mostly like that. I even like the Ornette Coleman cover better than the original! Campy tunes like Batman and James Bond? How could you argue with that? And there's more!
Though it would be harrowing to listen to for anybody who doesn't like this kind of music (yes, all of you idiots who are reading this, get out of here, stop trolling, and get a life), it's worth getting, this is essential. And in my eyes overall, it's the best Naked City release, period. If you know you are into this kind of stuff, then it's an essential purchase. And if you are new to John Zorn, this isn't a bad starting place. If you don' tlike it, don't feel bad at all. Ignore all the music snobs.