Live stories from the Naked City
Vincent Francone
6/2/2002 10:41:12 AM

If John Zorn can be faulted with anything it may be his habit of releasing several recordings each year, but so long as it is a Naked City release there should be no complaining. Always a favorite of many of his fans, Naked City may have been the most versatile and intense band to ever emerge from anywhere. Composed of mainly jazz musicians (including the incomparable Bill Frisell on guitar, Wayne Horvitz on keyboards, avant-garde heavyweight Fred Frith on bass, Joey Baron on drums and Zorn himself on alto sax,) Naked City stretched the patience of jazz purists and created a new style of music from already proven styles- mainly hardcore, thrash, free jazz and even country. Their ability to seamlessly shift from each of these styles helped them blur the line between each of them and made the band an underground favorite. The message, if this music could claim to contain any, seemed to be that music was music and any of it could be used, combined, chewed up and spit out to create something unique and interesting.

Zorn has suggested that Naked City was a band that existed due to intricately composed pieces, and it is clear by listening to them that there was no room for improvisation within their framework. It is no wonder that after Naked City disbanded Zornís follow up project was Painkiller, a band whose music was made up entirely of improvisation. When listening to Naked City one can sense just how precise each moment is of every song. The musicians had to be top notch players to be able to stop on a dime and go from playing jazz to death metal and have it all make sense. It is a testament to their prowess that they do this so effortlessly. Every studio recording (even the ambient departure, Absinthe,) was an awe inspiring spectacle of composition and musicianship. That is, unless they did it via studio trickery. Thankfully, evidence to the contrary is now available.

Naked City Live: Volume One [Tzadik] is the first in what will be a series of live recordings of this incredible band, a band that has influenced the Boredoms, Mr. Bungle, and most of the avant-rock scene. Recorded in 1989 at the Knitting Factory in New York, this is a snapshot of the band in their early days, months before they entered the studio to record their infamous first record. Most of the material is taken from that self titled album and all of it sounds as fresh today as it did then. Fun songs like "Batman" and "Latin Quarter" sound fantastic, as does the moodier theme from Chinatown and speed metal bursts of fury like "Igneous Ejaculation" and "Hammerhead." A few never released covers are present as well as extended solos and jams that prove that there was room for improv after all. If there is anything missing from this record it is the presence of long time Naked City guest, the Boredomsí Eye, whose maniac vocals lent a further edge to a band already dangling outside of convention. But I am confident that future releases in this series will feature Japanís finest screamer.

Fast, furious, and often touching, this first volume of the Naked City Live series is not only a reminder of what a fabulous and exciting band they were, but a promise of further great live CDís to come. Zornís latest solo compositions- as well as his work with the free jazz/traditional Jewish combo, Masada- is always wonderful to hear, but for many of us who still mourn the end of Naked City, this is a blessing. Grab this one if you have an interest in experimental music pushed to blistering limits, or if you want to hear some of the finest musicians of the last several years playing at their dizzying best.


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