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John Zorn - Spillane CD (album) cover

SPILLANE

John Zorn

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.72 | 15 ratings

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avestin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars With Zorn every album is a new exciting mad drive through his visions. Spillane is no different although it is a less complex, brutal and crazy than others I've heard by him. For each piece he summoned the lineup of musicians he thought would best fir the music played. In the booklet of this album Zorn gives a background on his music and on each of the tracks here and how they came to be. It demonstrates the working process of Zorn and how he accomplishes his vision.

The title track Spillane is homage to Mickey Spillane, pseudonym of Frank Morrison Spillane, an American thriller writer. Spillane is best-known for his private detective Mike Hammer, who appeared in his first published book I, The Jury (1947). In Spillane he created filling cards in which he wrote the various musical scenes to be enetered to the final piece. Every scene is built according to Mickey Spillane's "work, his world, his characters, his ideology". He notes that in some cards he just writes in general terms what he thinks there should be ("Opening scream. Route 66 intro starting with a high hat, then piano, strings, harp"). In other cards he goes into more details ("Scene of the crime #1- high harp harmonics, basses and trombone drone, guitar sonorities, sounds of water dripping and narration on top"). He then sorted his cards and put them in the order he wanted (which took months) and chose the musicians to perform it. That is very interesting to compose music in this way, to decide what sounds you want to be and then creatre them. He first creates the mold and then fills it with content. He also states that in the studio, although it was him calling the shots and determining what would it sound like, there was a "real give and take with the musicians". He sometimes would bring the music alredy written and prepared for playing. At other times he aid to Anthony Coleman (piano) "play some cheesy cocktail piano" or he approached Bill Frisell (guitar) "go and improvise My Gun Is Quick [a Spillane novel]". He states that "my works often move from one block to another.. But I always have a unifying concept that ties all the sections together".

The title track Spillane, is literally a soundtrack to a film. The narration is in a Film Noir style. The different bits of music that mingle into each other depict the different events that occur in the song and therefore, move from the dark and mysterious music to blues, to free head spinning jazz to sounds being made with no particular order. It is a frantic voyage that does not leave you time for pondering or contemplating too much on what you are hearing. At times it can remind you of what Fantomas did in Delirium Cordia and Suspended Animation, especially the spooky soundscapes and music. You have to consider that this goes on for more than 25 minutes, so some may find this exhausting, but I think that it is an excellent tour de force of Zorn's abilities at composition. I prefer the free jazz parts and the fright music bits to the other styles displayed here, but all are done in a very good way. Moreover, the connection between the different parts is not forced at all and in my opinion flows naturally from a part in which you have some scary music with weird voices to a jazzy part that turns into a chaos of sax and clarinet played by Zorn. There is not much point in trying to further describe this piece. This track alone makes the album worth buying, and indeed it was the main reason I bought it.

But let us not forget there are two other lengthy tracks here that deserve mention as well. In Two-Lane Highway Zorn states that his "role is perhapse more akin to that of an organizer, producer and director". By that he means that this piece was created to praise guitar player and bluesman, Albert Collins. He wanted Collins to shine and bring the bst out of him. For this purpose he listened to almost every record Collins ever made. He then "constructed a plot, taking Collins through twelve scenes of various moods, keys, tempos etc". the final result is Zorn's "portrait of a great bluesman". Now the Two-Lane Highway parts 1 and 2 are actually blues tracks. Part 1 is made up of 9 smaller pieces and as I mentioned, it features Albert Collins on guitar and vocals. The guitar, piano and organ complement each other quite well. The result is a very groovy, well played, energetic blues music. Part 2 is more relaxed, drumless blues in which Collins' guitar and the keyboards jam together.

The closing track, Forbidden Fruit was done "to balance the dramatic, narrative style of Spillane and the hot, live quality of Two-Lane Highway". This piece is what Zorn terms "pure music". The idea for this piece came to life when Zorn heard of the death of a Japanese film star, Ishihara Yujiro, in July 1987. he felt the urge to write a tribute piece for him. (Zorn has been fascinated with Japan sonce he was a kid and he lived there for several months each year). He wrote Forbidden Fruit as a set of variations inspired by a photo (shown in the booklet) of Yujiro with his wife, Kitahara Mie and another actor, Tsugawa Masahiko taken from Yujiro's debut film in 1957. what Zorn did was to create a "set of 12 sound blocks. which...are spread out over the entire duration of the piece. Composed of 60 sections in all, four sets of 12 variations each and the 12 themes, all squeezed into 10 minutes". Forbidden Fruit is an avant-garde piece, the sort of which Zorn loves so much to create. There is an occasional female voice of Ohta Hiromi, speaking in Japanese which is the narrator in this piece. The violins shift from squeaking screeching sounds to peaceful and harmonic ones. The soundscapes he creates bring to mind images of a tortured person and there is a contradictory effect caused by the beautiful voice of Hiromi. It is a dense track and for instance from about 7:00 to the end you get a nonstop violin madness and constant shift from this frantic playing to a relaxed but always eerie violin sound.

Spillane and Forbidden Fruit both demand the full attention of the listener as in many other Zorn pieces, while Two-Lane Highway is less obligating, but it should also be given full awareness. Now, I like this album as a whole and Spillane in particular and the musicianship is very good and demonstrates high level. However, I don't think it is an essential release. The title track itself is excellent but it is not enough to make the whole album essential, since the other two tracks, while being very much to my taste, don't give any additional value to the album. It's a kind of music we've heard elsewhere and isn't unique to Zorn (Two-Lane Highway) or we've heard it in another Zorn release (Forbidden Fruit). Therefore, I think it deserves 3 stars - good, but non essential.

avestin | 3/5 |

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