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For Your Consideration: John Zorn

Marc Rosenfeld Antunes
Staff Writer
mra337 [at] nyu.edu / @mcrantunes

The Nextbop staff is compiling their lists for the best albums of 2011. The first round of our voting ends today, but voting has not yet closed. Here we will do the closest Nextbop does to reviewing albums and attempt to persuade the rest of the staff to change their lists.

I’m not going to promote any one album here. But I will say this; it seems as though a large part of the “jazz” community is never really thinking about one of the hallmarks of music in the past couple of decades. John Zorn’s output is prolific in nature, and the quality of any given composition or improvisation is outstanding. A couple of months ago, I wrote an article concerning why Zorn should be remembered in free jazz as the most historic figures like Eric Dolphy are. But John Zorn’s style is one that is always evolving.

And over this past year, John Zorn has kept himself busy. Five albums have been released through his Tzadik label. But the material released over this year bears little resemblance to the music of which the aforementioned article spoke. For one, most of the music is tonal. But just a quick listen will convince anyone that his mastery of the atonal is reflected on his mastery of the tonal.

He is not a performer in any of these albums, but a brilliant bandleader, conductor and composer. To name a few of the musicians working with him over this past year: Marc Ribot, Cyro Baptista, Trevor Dunn… John Zorn is someone who has kept his own music impersonal; this is to say that as an external spectator, he has more control over the music he makes. He has commented on the fact that he sometimes likes to watch the social interactions between musicians as they perform; it is this sort of observation that allows for him to know his music inside and out, literally, making sure that his musical expression stays true to itself while developing an existence of its own as it is put into the hands of brilliant performers.

His work is extremely original, always very particular, and it is for this reason that it is often very different from the music usually written about on Nextbop. But any of his albums released this year are as deserving as any for the best albums of 2011 list. Look to his Enigmata (2011), a tonal duo with Trevor Dunn on bass and Marc Ribot on guitar, creating a dark and nostalgic atmosphere. Or his The Satyr’s Play: Cereberus (2011), a work of two parts, “Satyr’s Play”, composed for two percussionists, rhythmically intensive and yet mellow, as well as “Cerberus”, a brass trio more dedicated to the classic style of Zorn, free, radical, and jumping between styles. Or even his less radical Nova Express (2011) and At the Gates of Paradise (2011), two easy-going jazz albums with original modalities, harmonies, and catchy hooks.

But it really is perhaps The Satyr’s Play: Cereberus that will catch the listener’s attention. It is this sort of inventiveness and disregard of limits and boundaries that is essential to “jazz”, since that is how jazz was born more than 100 years ago! This album is one of the most agitated that listeners will have heard in a while, and it is only fitting for the socio-politico-economic distress so many are experiencing at this very moment; it pushes the listener to wonder about the mysteries of existence, the rhythms of the pace of life, the harmony of certain human interactions. And the other albums, including his most recent A Dreamer’s Christmas (2011) reflect on this attitude of progressiveness yet openness to everything and anything which any jazz musician should keep in touch with at any time. Do not forget John Zorn.


John Zorn - Nova Express (2011) - “Between Two Worlds”
feat. Joey Baron on drums, Trevor Dunn on bass, John Medeski on piano, and Kenny Wollesen on vibes

Marc Antunes is a student at New York University. He writes about jazz, musicology, and sociology. Follow him on his twitter.