Zorn plays hard bop?
Michael Stack | North Chelmsford, MA USA | 08/05/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"One of the things I've noted over the years is a seeming lack of desire amongst people to hear music with a personal identity-- think about the old "downtown"/"uptown" jazz divide that was a big deal in the Jazz press years ago-- John Zorn, et.al. explore, push boundaries, and find new ways of expression, Wynton Marsalis and his cohorts make jazz into a self-reflective art, ignoring later innovations, later musics, and just performing in old styles, sometimes just playing old songs. And mind you, this isn't just limited to jazz-- Beethoven sells better than any modern composer as orchestra after orchestra re-records his pieces letter perfect (no slight against Beethoven, I'm rather fond of him) while modern composers struggle to sell a thousand records, and in rock music, the Rolling Stones manage to sell out tour after tour playing hits from 30-40 years ago without having made a coherent and legitimate music statement in longer than I have been alive.
As such, when I approached "News for Lulu", it was with much trepidation. John Zorn does bebop, everyone loves it. I've heard since I first started listening to Zorn that I should check this out, its fantastic, and whatnot. Of course, it's also out of print, and unlike Zorn's other bebop excursion (The Sonny Clark Memorial Quartet), it sells for a small fortune. The truth is that I'm not one for looking backward, and all my favorite musicians pushed in new directions their entire careers and didn't look back even at their own catalog and influences, and when they did, it was like Zorn's "Naked City", looking backward to get forward.
The truth is, I shouldn't've worried so much about "News for Lulu"-- it deserves the praise it gets. This isn't a bebop project really, John Zorn (blowing alto exclusively by this point in his career) is joined by trombonist George Lewis and guitarist Bill Frisell in this trio, dedicated to exploring the compositions of Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley, Sonny Clark, and Freddie Redd. The songs are great-- these are some relatively obscure hard bop composers, and Zorn doesn't even pick the more well known pieces by them. The music itself is stunning-- without a conventional rhythm section, there's a need for forced inventiveness, with horns often taking the roll of bass, Frisell covering endless ground comping behind the horns, and space being used to imply the sort of rhythmic structures that would typically be stated by a drummer. It very much is a record as much about what's not there as what is.
Straight from the opener, "KD's Motion", you know what you're getting into-- all three play fantastically, twisting around each other, and exercising great subtlety. And certainly the voices of all three players shine pretty brightly throughout, with each taking spotlight now and again. Personal favorites include the loose "Lotus Blossom" featuring opposing lines that meet now and again to form coherent statements, the dueling solos on "Ole" and the bluesy and super "Sonny's Crib"-- Lewis wails, Zorn digs in, and Frisell is just a monster.
So yes, it's Zorn plays hard bop, but it's really so much more than that. My only complaint is that this recording really could use some remastering-- the sound isn't as thin as the live recording, but the production bears a lack of preparation for CD. Nonethelss, this is essential Zorn, it's really a shame its not more readily available. Highly recommended."
Avant-Garde BeBop Triumph
ananas | Chicago, IL | 09/19/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"John Zorn, Bill Frisell, and a trombone player! No disrespect to George Lewis, I'm just not familiar with his work. But all three musicians distinguish themselves on the exciting CD. Anyone looking for a contemporary take on Bop and Soul Jazz from the top players in the game today need look no further. Import contains three stellar live tracks. Some of John Zorn's most accessible playing, but still maintains his unique flavor and sparkle. A real must have for Zorn fans, but also for fans of Hank Mobley, Sonny Clark, or Kenny Dorham, whose works are all interpeted here."