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John Zorn - The Gift CD (album) cover

THE GIFT

John Zorn

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.78 | 17 ratings

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Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Browsing through John Zorn's mammoth catalogue is like being a kid with a sweet tooth in the world's largest candy store: it's hard to know what to sample next. Not all the merchandise will be to your liking (coconut! ugh...) but there's something for every taste, and this 2001 release is one of the composer's more mouth-watering confections.

It's easily the most accessible and purely enjoyable album I've yet heard from such an otherwise provocative artist: fifty-one minutes of sunshine, sea breezes, and tropical exotica circa 1960. Zorn has of course sailed these occasional temperate zones elsewhere in his varied career, typically cued by the jangling roots-rock guitar of Marc Ribot, and by Cyro Baptista's esoteric percussion accents.

But there's a sinister undertow to the surf music here, as heard in the nervous repetition of "Cutting Stone", or the aptly named "Bridge to the Beyond", the latter an eerie subconscious night gaunt featuring Zorn himself on theremin and piano. Immediately after that last mysterious digression is a welcome reprise of the album opener "Makahaa": upbeat musical bookends suitable for your next luau, with optional grass skirt.

The album marked the third and final entry in Zorn's 'Music Romance Series', but judging from the subtext (made explicit in the somewhat disturbing inner sleeve art) his idea of romance can be a little kinky at times. It's meant to be subversive of course: Exotica was always an ersatz style of music, expressing a Post-War suburban daydream of South Seas enchantment. Zorn simply exploited that counterfeit innocence in the underhanded manner of CAN and their Krautrock 'ethnological forgeries', in effect redeeming a bogus musical trend with a harsh sense of self-awareness.

The same insight applies to the album's obvious sore thumb: "Mao's Moon": an incongruous film-noir score not so out of place in this collection as you might think. The world-weary late-night trumpet, the tinkling lounge piano, and the lush orchestral undercurrents are all reflections of another Post-War fantasy, populated by cynical gumshoes and sultry femme fatales.

The entire package is easy on the ears, but hardly easy listening. And the title itself was certainly appropriate. But of course John Zorn's entire, vast discography is like an endless series of artfully packaged gifts, and you never know what to expect until the wrapping comes off.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |

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