January 30, 2003

Ed's Underground: John Zorn

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For the infamous band Naked City, John Zorn assembled a decidedly unusual group, choosing some of jazz’s most versatile and creative players to bring to life this genre-destroying melee of jazz, metal, country, ambient, blues, film soundtracks, kitschy funk, and just about everything else these warped minds could think to throw in there. And topping it all off, as if it needed it, was Yamatsuka Eye of the Japanese noise-punk outfit Boredoms, screaming and gibbering and seemingly doing irreparable harm to his vocal cords.

The result, Naked City, was the start of an incredible project which would quickly go down in jazz history as legendary. The line-up’s subsequent albums — all of which would be released under Naked City’s moniker, rather than Zorn’s — rightfullly added to the legend, but this is where it all began. This album leads off with a rather odd mission statement, a funky cover of the Batman theme that provides a wild introduction to this group’s warped mentality.

From there on out, it only gets weirder. Zorn and company intersperse a handful of “straight” jazz pieces — including Morricone’s lovely “The Sicilian Clan” and Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” — with trashy, technically precise rawk that cuts and slices with razor-sharp virtuosity while still sounding completely chaotic and off-kilter. The raw energy of “Punk China Doll” melds into a low-key guitar jam towards the end of the song, then into mock-country on the 45-second “N.Y. Flat Top Box,” and then into the crazed mish-mash of “Saigon Pickup” (one moment it’s propulsive car chase music, the next a tinkly piano ballad, the next a ragged dub, the next a