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John Zorn - The Gift CD (album) cover

THE GIFT

John Zorn

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.81 | 8 ratings

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Anthony H.
Prog Reviewer
4 stars John Zorn: The Gift [2001]

Rating: 7/10

The Gift is the third volume in John Zorn's Music Romance series. The previous two albums in the series, Music for Children and Taboo & Exile, were both very eclectic pieces of work that synthesized various different styles. The Gift, however, is a stylistically uniform album, at least in comparison to its two predecessors. Certain tracks on previous Zorn albums have hinted at exotica, but this is the first full album that embraces the style completely. This is a collection of very pretty melodic jazz compositions that would fit in quite well on a cabana beach. These songs represent a completely different side of Zorn's musical personality; there is no jarring dissonance, blaring sax warbling, or radical avant-garde experimentation to be found here. Rather, this is a very pleasant and soothing recording. I love avant-garde music, but the approach that Zorn takes here yields excellent results. The songs are fun to listen to and the musicianship is fantastic.

"Makahaa" is a slow-paced Hawaiian surf piece with some excellent melodic guitar work from Zorn veteran Marc Ribot. "The Quiet Surf" is similar, with some nice hand-percussion and ethic strings. "Samarkan" features some odd percussion (I honestly don't know what instrument it is), and more superb guitar. What really makes this track stand out, though, is the phenomenal ethic flute playing from Ned Rothenberg. "Train to Thiensan" is quite an exotic piece with no shortage of bird and monkey noises. It has a nice atmosphere, but is a bit overly repetitive. "Snake Catcher" is the definite highlight of the album. In fact, this is one of all-time favorite Zorn pieces. Marc Ribot shines yet again, but his fantastic guitar playing would be nothing without the quiet rhythm section and the subtle synth lines. "Mao's Moon" is another highlight. This piece is pure smooth jazz, but this is not a bad thing. Dave Douglas gives an absolutely sublime and emotive trumpet performance. This track begs to be listened to under the moonlight. "Cutting Stone" is an exotic trance with a repetitive percussion/synth mantra. It's a decent track, but is also a bit too repetitive. "La Flor del Barrio" features even more fantastic guitar work, and Trevor Dunn's bass is also quite nice. "Bridge to the Beyond" is a great synth/piano-driven jazz piece. "Makahaa (Reprise)" ends the album with some fantastic surf guitar.

The Gift is one of my favorite Zorn releases. Albums like this make me wish that Zorn would explore this melodic direction more, because he is clearly immensely talented within the context of music like this. This album has an undeniable atmosphere; it evokes images of a setting sun over a calm beach. It's hard not to be bit happy while listening to this. This pathos is complimented by the spectacular musicianship, especially from Marc Ribot and Dave Douglas. My main problem with this album, however, is that there is a bit too much style and not enough substance. While this is an immensely enjoyable listen, there's not enough for me to explore here. In other words: there's not much for me to sink my teeth into. Regardless, I high recommended this album to any fan of jazz or melodic music in general. When looked at in the context of Zorn's massive discography, unusual albums like this really help demonstrate the full breadth of the man's talent.

Anthony H. | 4/5 |

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