My latest CD mini-review for the WRTI E-newsletter. You can read all my CD reviews here.

The Gift
John Zorn. Tzadik 7332


Composers have always used elements of popular music to make high art. The suites of Bach and entire movements of Mahler would never have appeared without the seeds of middlebrow entertainment. John Zorn cultivates this field, and for The Gift works a corner of it called The ’60s.

We were in love with the sun then, with California, Hawaii: it was the morning of the surf guitar. Then, for an hour or two, we fell head over sandals for anything that came from the East, or maybe the Middle East, but in any case we sighed for any place that wasn’t here: it was the afternoon of the fawn over the exotic. I spy Nehru-jacketed tourists sipping Turkish coffee to the strains of sidewalk shawms and djembes by day, draining Seven and Sevens to lounge bands by night.

John Zorn gets the milieu, and—far from mocking it—he uses his materials the way any good composer does, with respect. His repetitive harmonies and snaky melodies hold our attention long enough to make us smile at the world he so lovingly recreates. Is it pop? Is it serious? Oh, serious as a gavotte, maybe. But from “Makahaa” and “The Quiet Surf” to “Samarkan” and “Mao’s Moon,” Zorn opens a gift for us: the remembrance of how the sun felt then.