John Zorn’s Naked City band circa 1989 was truly the spark in the revolution known as Downtown music. The saxophonist and composer was working in multiple worlds of free improvisation, cartoon, film, and hardcore. His combination of the three latter bridged the music of Raymond Scott, Ennio Morricone and Napalm Death. The studio recording Naked City released in 1990 seemed a natural progression from his Morricone tribute The Big Gundown, the hard-boiled detective collage Spillane, and his hardcore tribute to Ornette Coleman entitled Spy vs. Spy.
While Zorn has moved passed the Naked City years to the celebrated Masada quartet and more refined composing, interest in the vital music of Naked City has continued. Tribute and cover bands like Prelapse and Blood Duster have followed in the tradition, but never really captured the spirit of this music. This live recording from The Knitting Factory was made shortly before the band actually recorded this same music in the studio.
For fans of the band, the live music sounds fresher than the subsequent studio date. Maybe it’s because every twist, jump-cut, and scream is forever burnt into memory. Hearing this band live recalls the first time the listener discovered Naked City. The usual suspects are here: Wayne Horvitz, Joey Barron, Fred Frith, Bill Frisell and Zorn with the exception of guest vocalist Yamatsuka Eye. Although the band was missing Eye this night, I found myself gurgling his parts.
They cover most of the music from the studio date, plus an unusually long (for Naked City) over ten minute cover of John Patton’s “The Way I Feel” as an encore. A must for Naked City fans.