Where can you even begin to tackle John Zorn? His avant-garde reworkings of spaghetti western soundtracks on The Big Gundown? Or his hardcore miniatures mixed with country, jazz and who knows what else on Naked City? Or maybe his ‘radical Jewish music’ as he calls it, played with the band Masada? Every facet of his work is as powerful as the next, and boy does he have many of them. I guess that’s what you should expect from someone who manages to write 300 (yes, 300!) new jazz numbers in three months for Masada, a series of 16 soundtrack albums released from the ‘80s until now, while running his own label Tzadik Records and whose sixtieth birthday was celebrated with worldwide festivals and performances which lasted almost until his following birthday. From classical, solo violin or organ pieces, to Napalm Death and Agnostic Front inspired covers, Zorn has done it all. But as a soft, yet still confusing introduction to his work, 1987′s Spillane suits itself just right.
The album takes its title from the detective novel author Mickey Spillane and traces the main guidelines for any hard-boiled, decadent noir film. Sleazy strippers, car chases, long waits and dream scenes abound in what is best described as a probable detective story. The 25 minute title track brings classic jazz or blues sections, urban field recordings, lots and lots of noise, cliche musings (”Feel like I smoked a whole deck of cigarettes and forgot to blow out the smoke”) of a down and out investigator voiced by John Lurie pasted onto one another erratically in a stream of consciousness type of flow. In it you’re not inside the character’s head, you’re not inside Zorn’s head, but inside every and any noir director’s. The title track synthesizes the genre so well, that the actual picture is no longer necessary. The asphalt is as hard as ever, cigarette smoke stings your eyes like in the divest of dives and the neon signs are as piercing as the whiskey soaked breath of the main character. ‘Spillane’ and the following two Two-Lane Highway pieces build a credible, and somehow even legible dirty investigator story with a beginning middle and end put in a completely improvised order. The album’s final track steers away a little from the whole noir fantasy, but shows another of Zorn’s sides, his abstract, completely unpredictable mix of classic ensembles and turntables. Forbidden Fruit features singer Hiromi Ōta performing spoken word lines in Japanese, the Kronos Quartet and Christian Marclay on turntables cutting into each other and disrupting any kind of expectations you would have from such a setup.
Spillane is all one great trip fusing jazz improvisation vinyl manipulation, Japanese vocal music, field recordings and downright noise under the guise of a rugged action story. So if you’re looking for some textbook postmodern pieces or are simply jaded by music in general, Zorn’s the way to go, always managing to kick your musical appetite into gear.