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John Zorn - Spy Vs. Spy: The Music Of Ornette Coleman CD (album) cover


John Zorn



3.20 | 24 ratings

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2 stars Picking Up the Tab For Free Jazz

How do you describe the taste of chicken if you don't like chicken? Some would say you shouldn't by virtue of being deemed a closet vegetarian. Others would say by being objective i.e as if by some other worldly journalistic conceit you were able to inhabit the sense organs of a 3rd party chicken lover. Until such time as the 'Vulcan Mind Meld' becomes standard issue for humanoid critters, prejudice, subjectivity, aesthetic sensibility and plain vanilla you will stubbornly hold sway.

What's sauce for the goose cannot camouflage a deficit of golden eggs.

I have an innate aversion to the 'abstract' in any art form and with music, especially so. That said, I don't consider either my tastes to be conservative ones or my willingness to persevere with challenging music to be found wanting.The important thing is that I want to delight in and appreciate all music but if I can't I do resent the corollary that my resistance is invalidated by my lack of understanding. It's sound, I've got ears and a (tiny) brain plus I'm sincere (I think I'm actually over-qualified)

There's a Carl Stalling 'cartoon violence' surface to this music reflected by the faux 'urban primitives' artwork which depicts scenes of self mutilation, S & M, torture, suicide and metropolitan dissolution peopled by grotesque cutesy parodies of suffering. The New York School of Highly Strung Arts has often been guilty of elevating our basest instincts into a vicarious confrontation of ugliness its graduates would run a mile from if encountered in the street. This is fantasy combat for those who've never been in a fight. Similarly, the notorious artwork that adorns the various Naked City releases features gratuitous imagery of executions, corpses, medical illustrations, yet more S & M plus torture victims and smacks of whining self-aggrandisement that hitherto I believed was the preserve of the boyish blasphemies from the metal brigade. The sleeve-notes really don't help in dismantling this prejudice either e.g. F**king hardcore rules, smash racism (?) Inside every Webster University Conservatoire student there is a big apple street punk just bursting to get out. Right on bro. We can't judge the book by the cover but in this instance, deprived of any articulated statement being discernible therein, it's all I have to go on as regards intent.

The 17 tracks are short and mercifully have titles, as given their uniformly searing blandness, how else could you tell them apart? That Messrs Zorn, Berne, Dresser, Baron and Vatcher are all consummately skilled musicians is not even up for debate here but the quintet appear to be hell-bent on regressing to a primordial state where notions of form and structure are considered impediments to drawing from the well of pure subjective creativity. Rather ironically, the charges of self-indulgence hurled at many a Prog giant are dwarfed by this avant dinosaur. What vestige of architecture still remains on this scorched earth location comes courtesy of the indelibly recognisable melodic skyline of Ornette Coleman's original tunes.(Which is a double whammy for your reviewer as I loathe the source and the destination equally e.g like hearing a Bay City Rollers album of Osmonds covers)

That Zorn strenuously resists all preconceived labels and categorisations for his music is of course a laudable sentiment but we are left with the overriding conclusion that it can only be described by what it isn't or what it lacks. (Bald ain't a hair colour) I do have a great deal of respect for John Zorn as a facilitator for music that would not ordinarily find a commercial outlet (via his artists 'not for profit' co-operative record label Tzadik) and he should be applauded for his efforts in this regard. He has recorded and contributed to more music than even someone as prolific as the late Frank Zappa and I'm not going to pretend that Spy v Spy is indicative of any of his other work (cos apart from the aforementioned Naked City project, I ain't heard any)

If sublimated aggression is your 'thang' and have an affection for shrill disaffection, grindcore, noiserock, carry a subscription to The Wire and think the latter's Ian Penman a literary genius - take a ringside seat.

(I'll be over in the corner with a white towel)

ExittheLemming | 2/5 |


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