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John Zorn - Godard/Spillane CD (album) cover

GODARD/SPILLANE

John Zorn

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.33 | 3 ratings

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Shakespeare
3 stars Godard and Spillane was my first exposure to the works of the heralded avant-garde jazz king. Initially, I was scared by it and for a time wasn't altogether sure whether I enjoyed it, disliked it strongly, or had a different sort of regard for it. It's really, really dense music. The composition is not unlike the flow of a novel written by Kurt Vonnegut called Slaughterhouse-Five, in which Billy Pilgrim jumps from different scenes of his life endlessly. One paragraph may be about his honeymoon, and suddenly, the next is about his adventures in the second world war, or his tale of being abducted by extra-terrestrials. Every few bars Zorn abruptly jumps to a new genre, played by different instruments, (and often, different musicians) in a wholly different atmosphere.

Often, it is dark and extremely foreboding, with great and precise melodies. But it can also be a jumpy, colourful type of jazz, or the most brief eccentric noise. Very often, electronic droning or subtle but haunting cellos will play a canvas for a narration or dialog. Sometimes they are French or Japanese, and merely the texture of the sounds are creepy; but other times they are spoken in English. For an example, picture this in a solemn and deep voice: There comes a time when everything has already been seen...there is traffic in the streets...the economy is normal...in the countryside, farmers are forgotten...and rewarded.... OK, it may not seem particularly dark when read, but I assure you, it's rather creepy when heard.

I also find it really funny, in a way. Any decent band could easily elaborate on a ten second clip here, and develop it into a good three to five minute pop song. (Some of those songs may have even earned air time!) What I find humorous is that Zorn perfected every section of music here, to the point that you assume the song has finally set in one direction. He spends so much work on one bar, just to cut off its feet and add more leg. It's a shame some sections aren't stretched. It only goes to show how many great ideas are floating about in this fellow's head. Unfortunately, the density of this record, along with the really out-there experimental moments, will turn so many music fans off. After many listens, more doors are opened, and you discover new things about the music: see new sides you hadn't noticed, or even hear sections you completely missed before.

Sadly, I know extremely little about the album's concept or theme. I think it has something to do with Zorn's appreciation for western dramas, or dark comic books, or American literature, or something in that genre. True, the sound of the album is comparable to the soundtrack of a batman film, or the like. Then again, there are so many sections, so different, that it's easily comparable to anything at one moment or another.

Many people will assume this is an album that's weird for the sake of it, but that accusation is completely false. Despite rigid and sudden jumps into polar pools of music, it has a truly gorgeous flow that many non-Avant-garde albums just lack. The haunting orchestra sections are beautifully sinister, and all the writing is hideously atmospheric. Anyone who thinks they can handle some really strange and obtuse music should try out this album. I'm not sure how good of a starting point it would be for Zorn in comparison to his other albums, as I've only heard three albums of his, but I would think it would make a decent one (since it was my starting point, and I was intrigued to discover more). This is pure avant-garde music - and an excellent flavour of it, too.

Shakespeare | 3/5 |

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