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Thread: John Zorn - the Rolling Stone article

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    John Zorn - the Rolling Stone article

    Yeah, I know: Rolling Stone is a joke. It was never really hip - or its supposed hipness was rooted in roots-obsessed lyrics-first anti-prog musical bigotry - and it's only gotten worse over the years.

    But read this article, written by Hank Shteamer (Is that really his name? I wonder if he comes from Cleveland.). It's good, very good. It involved dozens of interviews with dozens of people, to paint a portrait of Zorn as both an important artist, and an equally important discoverer and nurturer of talent. The writer makes a good point for Zorn as the one-man intersection point of a dozen disparate musical genres, and as a combiner of talents on the level of Zappa, Fripp, Miles, or Charles Mingus. And, although the article doesn't describe it as such in so many words, as the inventor of the jazz/metal/composition hybrid that reinvented prog from first principles for the Nineties and beyond.

    https://www.rollingstone.com/music/m...-city-1015329/
    Last edited by Baribrotzer; 1 Week Ago at 01:26 PM.

  2. #2
    Thx for posting.
    "Improvisation is not an excuse for musical laziness" - Fred Frith
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    It's really detailed and long and for all that does not even cover Masada and all of those projects. Well done article.
    I'm not lazy. I just work so fast I'm always done.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dana5140 View Post
    It's really detailed and long and for all that does not even cover Masada and all of those projects. Well done article.
    He's done so many things, and I think the main point of the article was his contribution as a one-man musical nexus - as someone who connected all kinds of different musicians. He put guys together that would otherwise have never even known OF one another, and got them to work side-by-side and to understand and appreciate each others' music. It might be an open question whether that whole avant/jazz/metal/prog combination was in the air at the time and Zorn just helped it along, or whether he really had a lot to do with creating it - note that Mr. Bungle were trying to do something similar, yet they lived in the remote burg of Eureka, CA. But I don't think that Starebaby, or Tim Berne's Snakeoil would have existed, or sounded like they do without Zorn's influence.
    Last edited by Baribrotzer; 1 Week Ago at 04:24 PM.

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    Subterranean Tapir Hobo Chang Ba's Avatar
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    Thanks for posting. Will read later. Glad to see his name mentioned in some sort of mainstream way.
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    Music journalism of this standard is rare these days. Not something I would expect from, particularly, RS. A great read.
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  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Baribrotzer View Post

    But read this article, written by Hank Shteamer (Is that really his name? I wonder if he comes from Cleveland.). ]
    What does his name have to do with where he's from?

  8. #8
    I agree. There is a reason he has a MacArthur award. I cannot believe how many discs he puts out and each one of high quality. Mercurial, for sure.
    I'm not lazy. I just work so fast I'm always done.

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    Jazzbo manqué Mister Triscuits's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GuitarGeek View Post
    What does his name have to do with where he's from?
    You really don't want to know.
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    Member Lebofsky's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Baribrotzer View Post
    He's done so many things, and I think the main point of the article was his contribution as a one-man musical nexus - as someone who connected all kinds of different musicians. He put guys together that would otherwise have never even known OF one another, and got them to work side-by-side and to understand and appreciate each others' music. It might be an open question whether that whole avant/jazz/metal/prog combination was in the air at the time and Zorn just helped it along, or whether he really had a lot to do with creating it - note that Mr. Bungle were trying to do something similar, yet they lived in the remote burg of Eureka, CA. But I don't think that Starebaby, or Tim Berne's Snakeoil would have existed, or sounded like they do without Zorn's influence.
    Having had my experience working with him on the outskirts of his sphere, I can confirm he's a true mensch. I feel pretty lucky I got into his orbit just by virtue of playing in Secret Chiefs 3, and he wouldn't know me from Adam but upon first meeting he was immediately welcoming and interested in whatever I had to offer. Two fun stories about my experiences with him:

    1. At my first Masada gig (I had only briefly met him a couple times before this) he announced there was going to be a big group ensemble at the end reading down another one of his charts. As we were wrapping up going over this tune during soundcheck he came over to me and asked, "you wanna solo?" I said "sure." He then came closer and - with some tough love - pointed a finger at me and commanded, "I'm gonna give you a solo, so TAKE it!" Ha! No pressure.

    2. Years later when SC3 debuted the second Masada set of material at the Stone in NYC, he was actually working the door. My sister was on the guest list, but running late. She appeared just as we were about to get started and Zorn told her, "sorry we're sold out." She told him she should be on the guest list and he looked and said, "Oh! You're Matt's sister!" And then he held up the show digging out another chair and getting people to move so she'd have a place to sit. I could tell by the look on my sister's face she had no idea who he was but she looked over at me with an expression that read, "wow, what a nice gentleman!" Pretty cute.

    - Matt

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mister Triscuits View Post
    You really don't want to know.
    He probably gets asked every now and then if he's from the Ohio branch of of the family - the Cleveland Shteamers.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Lebofsky View Post
    no idea who he was
    Unfortunately, neither do some apparently substantial percentage of folks who claim to adhere to "progressive" in rock yet appear bewildered once they are confronted with a musical actor phenomenon as -totally- revolutionary as Zorn. Granted it didn't take me long to discover him, seeing as his reference was absolutely everywhere to be found with "out" music fans even here in Norway during the 90s, yet it still took me another few years to get truly interested in him, "comprehend" his stuff/philosophies and truly enjoy a bulk of his work. This being said, I still get sceptical on meeting people who claim to like ALL of his doing. But the man is a maverick and genuine auteur in modern music, a name which will actually be not only remembered but celebrated. Compared to the artistic importance of a figure like Zorn, most other heroes of mine fade to pale.

    Thanks so much for posting that intimately beguiling little text there, Matt - a great read!
    "Improvisation is not an excuse for musical laziness" - Fred Frith
    "[...] things that we never dreamed of doing in Crimson or in any band that I've been in," - Tony Levin speaking of SGM

  13. #13
    I think the first time I heard of John Zorn was seeing a photo of him in a book about avant garde music that I borrowed from the library, which showed him doing one of his duck call solos. As I recall, he was using it in a bowl of water.

    After that, I recall finding a couple of his records at the library, namely The Big Gundown and Spillane. The latter caught my attention because there was a track with Albert Collins on it (which, as far as I know, still has never been reissued). And I think I heard a few of his other things on college radio at the time. That was back in the 80's.

    Then I kinda didn't pickup on too much of his other things until the late 90's, when I started shopping at Borders, and they had a well stocked Zorn section. I think I ended up picking up Pool, First Recordings, and I think Locus Solus also at that time. I've added a few of his other records since then. I remember someone telling me that I Zorn's "most difficult" music, and that I might be surprised at some of the other things he's done.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by GuitarGeek View Post
    I remember someone telling me that I Zorn's "most difficult" music, and that I might be surprised at some of the other things he's done.
    Well, he's put out some quite gentle music too, that would not scare your Aunt Petunia if you were to slap it on during a visit - e.g. the Dreamers and Gnostic Trio groups. Personally I find that most of the albums I get more out of are at the noisier and more abrasive end of his output - e.g. Naked City, Electric Masada, Simulacrum. Though there are exceptions - I very much like Mount Analogue, which is pretty unthreatening.

    The sheer volume and diversity of his work, as well as the radicalism of some of it, is a phenomenon in itself and makes him a unique figure in modern music. With most artists if you've got ten or a dozen albums you're gonna have a good handle on what they do. With Zorn you haven't scratched the surface at that point.
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    A point that I thought was interesting: Of his role in Simulacrum, John Medeski said, “I love metal, but unless you go really back, keyboards are not a big part of it.” And notice that Zorn has him playing specifically Hammond - and nothing else - as did Jon Lord, and most other keyboardists in those early heavy bands. There's something about that particular old-fashioned lineup and sound that works in a way synths don't, even though they might get fatter bass tones, or richer chordal textures, or more driving leads.

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by Mascodagama View Post
    Well, he's put out some quite gentle music too, that would not scare your Aunt Petunia if you were to slap it on during a visit - e.g. the Dreamers and Gnostic Trio groups. Personally I find that most of the albums I get more out of are at the noisier and more abrasive end of his output - e.g. Naked City, Electric Masada, Simulacrum. Though there are exceptions - I very much like Mount Analogue, which is pretty unthreatening.
    I need to pick up more of the Masada related stuff. I only have the one that Pat Metheny did, which I like quite a bit.

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by Mascodagama View Post
    Well, he's put out some quite gentle music too, that would not scare your Aunt Petunia if you were to slap it on during a visit - e.g. the Dreamers and Gnostic Trio groups.
    There was an interview with Bill Laswell in - I believe - the now forgotten but lamented UK mag Jockey Slut (which constituted a positive anomaly in British music media, in that they also embraced uninhibited interest in past forms of pop) way back in the 90s, in which he was asked about Zorn in relation to their collab work with Painkiller (Laswell obviously being featured in the mag due to his house/dub-exploits), and the grand bassist went off on a long tirade about Zorn being genuinely interested in allthings musical completely disrespectful of cultural leverage or baggage as to "genre". I learnt a lot about Zorn from reading that, as I went back to my dad's ol' cassettes of German easy-listening compilations (including James Last) with a findamentally different view on the worth of it. I remember also returning to film music (Bernard Herrmann, Henry Mancini and Jerry Goldsmith in particular) after that interview, discovering things I'd never even imagined to see perspective on.

    Og course, Zorn himself very rarely did interviews at all until the late 2000s, so it was a scarce treat for those interested.
    "Improvisation is not an excuse for musical laziness" - Fred Frith
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    Member frinspar's Avatar
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    I watched "Trespass" yesterday. Action movie from 1993 with Ice T, Ice Cube, Bill Paxton and others. I saw John Zorn was listed in the 'Thank You' section at the end of the closing credits, so I looked up why.
    Never knew he did a complete score for it, but the director hated it and had Ry Cooder do a new one. Listened to some of it, and it's fine. But I don't think it would've worked well in the movie. Also, the movie was pretty weak, and I tend to be forgiving with a lot of those.

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    KrimsonCat MissKittysMom's Avatar
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    Nice interview, as far as it goes, but very one-sided and focused on hardcore, virtually ignoring everything else. And it's the "everything else" that interests me about Zorn. His ability to connect people and use their disparate backgrounds to build new ideas and sounds is equally obvious throughout the Masada series, especially in the 32 volumes of Book of Angels.

    Another place where his influence shows is in the catalog of his Tzadik label. I've discovered a huge number of new bands and musicians, just browsing there.
    I think the subtext is rapidly becoming text.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MissKittysMom View Post
    Nice interview, as far as it goes, but very one-sided and focused on hardcore, virtually ignoring everything else.
    The point, though (I think) was that Zorn took hardcore - and extreme metal - seriously: as music, as highly passionate, and as an artistic expression. An awful lot of "real musicians" didn't in the early Eighties, and just dismissed both genres as annoying, sub-amateurish kid stuff, and almost anti-music. And while journalists and critics praised hardcore (not metal so much), they didn't actually team up punk and metal and jazz and prog guys in the same bands, the way Zorn did. They didn't get the jazz guys to lose their musicianship-oriented snobbery, the punk and metal guys to lose their defensive reverse-snobbery, and get them to appreciate one another.

    Besides that is the sort of thing a journalist would notice and want to write about - the sociological aspects of music-making.

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    KrimsonCat MissKittysMom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Baribrotzer View Post
    The point, though (I think) was that Zorn took hardcore - and extreme metal - seriously: as music, as highly passionate, and as an artistic expression. An awful lot of "real musicians" didn't in the early Eighties, and just dismissed both genres as annoying, sub-amateurish kid stuff, and almost anti-music. And while journalists and critics praised hardcore (not metal so much), they didn't actually team up punk and metal and jazz and prog guys in the same bands, the way Zorn did. They didn't get the jazz guys to lose their musicianship-oriented snobbery, the punk and metal guys to lose their defensive reverse-snobbery, and get them to appreciate one another.

    Besides that is the sort of thing a journalist would notice and want to write about - the sociological aspects of music-making.
    You can find the same genre-crossing sociology in the Masada series; it's not unique to Zorn's hardcore-metal work. And you can see it even more broadly across Tzadik's catalog on their web site; at that point you're not restricted by genre.

    But I still find hardcore-metal annoying, no matter how professionally it's done.
    I think the subtext is rapidly becoming text.

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    Member frinspar's Avatar
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    Baribrotzer, that's what I got. The overarching theme of the piece is how Zorn's expanded how the people he's worked with thought/think about music, and how that influenced others through those collaborations. I relate to all of those recollections in the piece because that's exactly what he did for me.

    When a friend picked up the Naked City CD back then it destroyed us. There were no lines anymore. All music could exist in the same place. We were basically metal guys at the time, and Zorn taught us that you can be all things and still have an identity. And be even stronger for it. I still have my CD and it's still in regular rotation along with others he's created.
    Because of Zorn at that time, our CD collections exploded quickly by hundreds, with the options we began realizing were in the hundreds of thousands. Everything was fair game to mine for joy and influence.

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