The Secret Museum:
Jim Webb & Michael Mooney
John Zorn & His
Radical Jewish Music
It is hard to talk about John Zorn’s music since it defies all accepted borders and has encompassed almost every stylistic trend of the last 50 years. He is a musician (saxophonist), record label owner (Tzadik), artistic director (The Stone performing space in N.Y.C.), besides being one of America’s most prolific composers, appearing on over 400 recordings.
Zorn became better known starting in 1985 for his release titled “The Big Gundown,” where he adapted the music of filmmaker Ennio Morricone into his anything-goes style of avant/jazz that helped solidify his stature as one of New York City’s most respected “downtown” artists. The word Downtown here is not just where this collective group of musicians lived, but is a term that became the catch phrase for all things experimental. He also has a large discography of film soundtrack recordings, recorded prolifically in the early ’90s with his noise/metal/punk/jazz outfits called Naked City and Painkiller.
Up until 1994, I would not have called myself a big Zorn fan. Naked City/Painkiller were so extreme at times that even though you could occasionally marvel at its sheer power and complexity, I never seemed to find the right time in the day when its punishing moments could be listened to for more than a brief period. Zorn released Kristallnacht in 1992 and it revitalized his interest in exploring and contributing to his Jewish roots. He founded his record label Tzadik (righteous man) in 1995 and decided to write one hundred songs for his latest band called Masada. They incorporated elements of Klezmer, Eastern European folk music and classical string parts to create a new kind of Sephardic chamber jazz sound. The Masada String Trio and The Bar Kohkba Sextet have also recorded these songs and in 2004, Zorn wrote three hundred new compositions for a series called “The Book of Angels.” “The Book of Angels” is now up to 13 released volumes of music, with Uri Caine, Erik Friedlander and Marc Ribot being just some of the musicians that have recorded these new compositions. This extended period of quality music encompassing everything from the Masada quartets through the 13 volumes “The of Book of Angels” is easily Zorn’s most consistently enjoyable work for me. Volume 13 was released in January 2010 and is titled “Mycale.” It continues Zorn’s unpredictable ways with 33 minutes of music performed a capella by four female vocalists. I still find that some releases from Zorn outside of the Masada/Angels series are too ambitious for my tastes in music. He released a three CD metal/free jazz play in 2006 (“Moonchild/Astronome/Heliogabalus”) that had spontaneous sounds coming from vocalist Mike Patton instead of words. John was awarded a MacArthur Foundation grant of $500,000 in 2006 and his muse continues to take him far away from following any one established path as a writer and performer.
His music is consistently more melodic now than in the past, and his strength as an original writer remains unchanged. With his Masada/Book of Angels work, Zorn has taken strands of classical, jazz and traditional music and interwoven them with his modern influences to create something truly unique. Now it doesn’t matter what time of the day it is, I find myself listening to these various string trios, Klezmer and jazz infused releases. The radical part of John Zorn is not politically based in pro or anti-Zionist messages, but in his ability to synthesize the musical roots of the Jewish Diaspora into a modern songbook that can be reinterpreted by other musicians in the years to come.
“I’m not interested in politics, but in people, music, and knowing about human feelings.” – John Zorn.
Bar Kohkba—“The Circle Maker”
Masada String Trio—“50th Birthday Celebration”
Cracow Klezmer Band—“Balan; The Book of Angels vol. 5”
The Dovells: You Can’t Sit Down
It’s commonly accepted that the First Dark Age of Rock resulted from the following factors: Little Richard found Jesus, Elvis got drafted, The Killer married his 13-year-old cousin, Buddy crashed, Chuck violated the Mann Act, Eddie Cochran crashed. When we look at the Billboard Number One singles from 1960-61, it appears that the rot has set in: Teen Angel, Theme From A Summer Place, Wonderland By Night, a little Lawrence Welk. But see who else is here: Everly Brothers, The Drifters, Ray Charles, Maurice Williams, The Shirelles, Del Shannon, Ernie K-Doe, plus Orbison, Gary U.S. Bonds, Bobby Lewis, Dion, The Marvelettes. Not too shabby, all considered. 1962 is almost as good: Joey Dee, Gene Chandler, Bruce Channel, Little Eva, Ray Charles again, The Four Seasons, Crystals, Tornados. OK, so Bobby Vinton, Connie Francis, and Neil Sedaka are also in there, but there’ve been worse horrors inflicted by the record-buying public. 1963: Steve Lawrence (who I like), The Rooftop Singers, Bobby Vinton (again), and The Singing Nun on the one hand—The Four Seasons (right on), Ruby and The Romantics, The Essex, Chiffons, Jimmy Soul, Lesley Gore, The Tymes, Stevie Wonder, Jan & Dean, The Fireballs with Jimmy Gilmer, and The Angels on the other.
Now, keeping in mind that Year Zero 1964 gave us Number Ones from Vinton (twice! – that’s enough now), Dean Martin, and Lorne Greene (!), the hard facts emerge (and remember, we’ve only been looking at songs that hit the top of the charts; the following rockers enjoyed single success during the same time period- Barrett Strong, Charlie Rich, Miracles, Clarence “Frog Man” Henry, Rosie & The Originals, Freddie Cannon, Sam Cooke, Orlons, Isley Brothers, Booker T and The MG’s, Clyde McPhatter, and many more. Also, this was a time when independent labels and regional sounds reigned supreme- there was always something interesting cooking, and competing with the majors, in the Great Melting Pot): a) there’s always been crap in the Billboard charts, b) Rock Music was alive and well during the early 1960s, and c) we didn’t need the Beatles to save us after all.
The Dovells from West Philadelphia reached Number Two in the fall of 1961 with “Bristol Stomp”: whomping kick drum and snare, ride cymbal, tambourine, one guitar, three doo-wopping Overbrook High grads in back, and the tremendously tremulous white-soul lead vocal of 19 year-old Leonard Borisoff. It’s simple, sloppy, careening and pounding—in other words, Rock and Roll. A few minor hits followed over the next two years, mostly cash-in attempts at exploiting the next teen dance sensation (Jitterbug, The New Continental, Hully Gully, Froog, The Monkey), though outside of Philadelphia, none came close to reaching the heights of “Bristol Stomp.” With one exception.
If any further evidence is required that Rock and Roll was not only still alive in early summer 1963 but kicking arse royally, The Dovells deliver the goods with resolute and stunning conviction. “You Can’t Sit Down” leaps from the speakers with quick drum-roll, organ wash, handclaps and a frantic Borisoff declaiming what you gotta do:
Hey pretty baby,
Don’t you hear the drummer thumpin’?
You gotta shake it like a crazy,
’Cause the band is sayin’ something.
Everybody is a-jumpin’,
You gotta slop, bop, flip-flop,
Hip-hop, all around.
Wild organ, fast and hard drums, out of control tenor sax—this was the sound of East Coast Young America. Jerry Gross, Arnie Silver and Mike Freda join in:
You can’t sit down, you can’t sit down
You gotta move, move, move, around and ’round.
You gotta fly, fly, fly, way off the ground.
They’re puttin’ down, a crazy sound.
No, no, you can’t sit down,
You gotta make it, break it,
Shake it all around.
You gotta slop, bop, flip-flop,
Hip-hop, never stop.
Equally crazed “Betty In Bermudas/Dance The Froog” would follow later that summer, then “Stop Monkeyin’ Around/No No No,” but by December, Borisoff was gone (he’ll return in ’65 with the Northern Soul classic “1-2-3”) and the hits dried up. That same month, on the other side of the country, Portland’s Kingsmen would provide one last brilliant gasp of pre-invasion U.S. chart action before everything changed forever.
Last month’s interviewees !!The!!Bang!!Gang!! will be playing at Seco Pearl on Saturday, March 27. This could be their last performance for a while. All-new material is promised. Manby’s Head open. Both groups will have their latest releases available for purchase. Admission: $5.00- $15.00.
Seco Pearl: 590 Hondo-Seco Road, Arroyo Seco, 7 p.m. (approximately, call first to confirm) 575-776-1225.
The following week, Caffé Tazza presents electricLuLuland. The artist formerly known as Les Lokey will be presenting ROCKSHOW on Saturday, April 3, in preparation for her upcoming “provocaTOUR.” Admission: $3.00- $10.00.
Caffé Tazza: 122 Kit Carson Road, Taos, 6-9 p.m., 575-758-8706.
TERRELL'S TUNE-UP: Six New Ones from Voodoo Rhythm and Off-Label - A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican April 28, 2017 With all the recent news of right-wing nationalism coming out of Europe, it’s r...
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