Naked City Live 1: Knitting Factory 1989
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After over ten years, Tzadik is finally releasing an exciting series of live recordings by one of the most unique and infamous bands ever: Naked City. Featuring Bill Frisell, Fred Frith, Wayne Horvitz and Joey Baron this was a true downtown supergroup brought together to realize John Zorn s twisted compositional vision combining jazz, movie soundtracks, rock, rhythm and blues, hardcore punk, cartoon music, country and western and just about everything imaginable - often all in the same piece! This first volume is a beautifully recorded document of the band early on, performing live at the club that served as home base from their very first concert series in 1988 to their very last in 1993. Captured here performing the repertory of their legendary first recording many months before they entered the studio, this is Naked City at its gritty/fast changing best. New solos, wilder improvisations and some original compositions and covers that never appeared on disc make this an absolute must for all the Naked City fans around the world.
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If you're unfamiliar with Naked City, the band is John Zorn (alto sax), Bill Frisell (guitar), Fred Frith (bass), Wayne Horvitz (keys), and Joey Baron (drums) and was a compositional and arranging worshop for Zorn. Any genre was fair game, sometimes several at once-- effortlessly blending jazz, hardcore, and a thousand other styles into the mishmash that this material is. Performed with style and personality by some of the best musicians around, it is certainly something to hear.
This live record is essentially the first album performed live-- seventeen of the twenty cuts here are from the Naked City debut, with three additional pieces (Zorn's "Skate Key", from Naked City's "Radio", Morricone's "Erotico", which Zorn recorded on "The Big Gundown", and John Patton's "The Way I Feel", which Zorn recorded as a sideman for Patton). The material is usually looser than the album versions of the tracks, with some of the solo space less filled and several of the pieces extended from their recorded versions ("Inside Straight" for example). The performance works well as a whole, but the gems are the arrangements we haven't heard before, in particular loose jam "The Way I Feel".
As good an introduction to the band as any other (although I'd still recommend the debut Naked City album) over this, and is essential for fans. Highly recommended.
The differences between this and the self-titled album are important. They play one track from their album "Radio" (Skate Key) and they play a beautiful cover of Ennio Morricone's "Erotico." (That song is on Zorn's tribute to Morricone, "The Big Gundown," played by a different set of musicians.)
The final major difference is the finale, a cover of John Patton's "The Way I Feel." At over 10 minutes in length, the song gives half of the band members a chance to play a solo. You get to hear the band wind down from an intense night, working out new musical ideas against each other in front of an audience.
This is one of the best Naked City albums --- and that's saying a lot. Released almost 10 years after their last album, it could have been a cynical attempt to make a little cash from Naked City fans. Instead, it's a nearly flawless album that works as an introduction for those who haven't heard the band before, a little gift for dedicated fans, and a re-introduction to what makes them so great.
Personally, I bought 'Torture Garden' first, back in 1989 or 1990, on vinyl (the Earache release), and I've bought it twice on CD (once on Shimmy Disc, and again on the Tzadik 'black box' with Leng T'che). I would recommend that album, in black box format, as the place to start, because once you've lived through that you'll be fine for the rest, except maybe 'Absinthe', which is amazing but not in the same style.
If you like Zorn's style here check out also the Painkiller 'Collected Works' box, where he teams up with the human tornado Mick Harris, then drummer for Napalm Death. Naked City is in many ways Napalm Death's 'From Enslavement to Obliteration' translated into jazz, and Painkiller (rounded out by Bill Laswell, breaking out of the dub mould) is like an improv jazz Napalm Death, totally devasting from the first count in.
Like the first Naked City studio disc, this is a good album. If you have to pick one, you might get the studio one. Buy it, then wait a while, and get this one for an encore.