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John Zorn - New Traditions In East Asian Bar Bands CD (album) cover


John Zorn



2.96 | 6 ratings

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Anthony H.
Prog Reviewer
3 stars John Zorn: New Traditions in East Asian Bar Bands [1997]

Rating: 5/10

New Traditions in East Asian Bar Bands is a prime example of an interesting musical idea being stretched far beyond its conceivable capacity. This 72-minute beast consists of three lengthy improvisations featuring two guitars, two drum kits, and two synths, respectively. The music is accompanied by female narration in Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese. Thus, what we have here is yet another strange and gimmicky musical concept from Zorn. This idea seems fascinating on paper, but many Zorn releases have taught me that a cool idea in theory may end up being quite the opposite in practice.

The first piece, "Hu Die", features Fred Frith and Bill Frisell on electric guitars. This 25-minute improv is massively overlong, but it does have its moments here and there. The guitars have a twangy and ethereal tone; this creates a nice ambience when combined with the Chinese narration. "Hwang Chin-Ee" is the highlight of the album. It features Joey Baron and Samm Bennett on drums. This track has an irresistible groove that's an absolute joy to listen to. I never thought that percussion could be ambient, but this track has proven me wrong. "Que Tran" is the third and final piece; this 30-minute monstrosity is what really brings the album down. It features Anthony Coleman and Wayne Horvitz playing dual synths in the most dull and minimalistic manner imaginable. At points, the music stops altogether and the listener is left with nothing but Vietnamese spoken-word narration. To add insult to injury, it's half an hour long.

There are many cool musical moments to be found throughout the duration of this album, but not nearly enough to justify the extraordinarily long run-time. Half-hour slabs of nothing but guitar/synth interplay and foreign-language narration eventually grow tiresome, to say the least. As is the case on many of his releases, Zorn's ideas seem uncomfortable with themselves here. Instead of letting concepts stand on their own merits, Zorn has overextended them into endlessly dull 30-minute behemoths. Nevertheless, the grooviness of "Hwang Chin-Ee" and the atmospherics of "Hu Die" allow New Traditions in East Asian Bar Bands to still be a decent work, albeit an entirely unessential one.

Anthony H. | 3/5 |


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