JOHN ZORN, September 12, 1953-

John Zorn is—with the possible exception of Bill Laswell—the most prolific avant garde composer/musician active today; his recordings span musique concrete, free jazz, fusion, bebop, hardcore, film soundtrack compositions, world music, and the European classical tradition. In order to document the full breadth of his eclectic experiments, Zorn has utilized a wide range of independent and European labels as well as Elektra/Nonesuch, issuing albums both as a solo artist and under various group configurations. His collaborators read like a who’s who of cutting edge art music, jazz, and rock, including Laswell, Derek Bailey, George Lewis, Bill Frisell, Vernon Reid, Fred Frith, Wayne Horovitz, Bobby Previte, Albert Collins, Yamatsuka Eye, and the Kronos Quartet.

Born in Brooklyn, Zorn had developed a highly personalized approach to composition and improvisation prior to emerging as a creative force on New York’s Lower East Side in the mid-1970s. While mining the free-jazz genre, he recorded his first solo albums—including School (1978), Pool (1980), and Archery (1981), reissued as part of the seven-CD set, The Parachute Years (Tzadik 7607; 1995)—all of which were initially limited to the European market. Zorn’s first major label release, The Big Gundown (Elektra/Nonesuch 979139; 1986)—a skewed take on Ennio Marricone’s cinema compositions—represented an early manifestation of his lifelong fascination with television and film.

While issuing stylistically diverse solo albums at a dizzying pace—News for Lulu (Hat Art 6005; 1987), a bebop tribute, would be followed three months later by Spillane (Elektra/Nonesuch 979172; 1986), which featured conflicting fragments of sound spliced together—he became increasingly involved in a seemingly endless array of side projects. Naked City explored postpunk styles such as grindcore; beginning with Naked City (Elektra/Nonesuch 979238; 1990), the band issued six LPs through 1994. Painkiller veered even closer to speed metal with Guts of a Virgin (Earache 045; 1991) and Buried Secrets (Earache 062; 1992). Masada and Bar Kokhba, two units devoted to Yiddish/ Middle Eastern music, produced more than a dozen albums between 1995-2000. Other platforms have included his Spy Vs. Spy band, dedicated to reinterpreting Ornette Coleman’s work within a postmodern rock context, East Asian bar bands, and deconstruction of classical music formats such as the string quartet and piano concerto.

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