Part Holy Grail, part Rosetta stone, John Zorn’s 1985 release The Big Gundown was for the many the portent of the Downtown scene’s birth. For this listener, it was my introduction to John Zorn and many Downtown artists that I have listened to these past fifteen years, including: Arto Lindsay, Wayne Horvitz, Bobby Previte, Tim Berne, Christain Marclay, and Vernon Reid.
As my old vinyl copy is safely stored away (I for one haven’t lobbied for the re-introduction of turntables), this reissue reminds me just how fresh and overtly original Zorn’s take on the Italian soundtrack composer Ennio Morricone actually was. Zorn like Morricone is a collage artist. Where the Italian Morricone (born 1928) draws from his musical experiences, Zorn (born 1953) derives his material from an American experience of cinema, cartoons and TV. It seems like it was John Zorn who made us recognize Raymond Scott and Carl Stalling for their compositional genius.
Here in this collection of ideas are the germs and roots of Zorn’s later projects including Naked City, Painkiller, Spillane, and his numerous Filmworks projects. Back in1985, music listeners were under full attack by the corporate jazz conservatives. Reanimated bebop was the big story, with its clean-cut cravats and backward looking swing. Along came Zorn and company, and creative music seemed to be freed from its ‘strange guys playing to an audience of twelve’ reputation. Zorn and his cast of Downtowners favored creativity over recreation and The Big Gundown was the shot heard round the world.