Wednesday, June 27, 2007


John Zorn, 1986

Well this was the first John Zorn music I ever heard - think I bought the album my first year in college. Definitely a great one for me to start with, I have to say, for lots of reasons. The album has three pieces of music on it, but I'm just going to talk about the title track.

First and foremost, Spillane is a musical exploration of the milieu, dynamics, and themes of Mickey Spillane's hardboiled detective stories. I have to say that I've never been a big fan of Spillane's writing, but obviously Zorn is. He takes what's basically tawdry derivative prose and uses it as a jumping off point for his prodigious sonic imagination.

It's one of Zorn's pastiche-style pieces, made up of a few dozen small vignettes, stitched together. Some bits are purely atmospheric soundscapes, setting a scene (rain and windshield wipers, footsteps echoing in an alley). Some are genre music of one kind or another (roadhouse blues, 50s West Coast jazz). Some are soundtrack cues in the 70s-80s Hollywood style (think synthesizer arpeggios). There are also a handful of recitations of lines from Spillane novels. More often than not, several of these things are happening simultaneously.

There seems to be an overall direction to the piece that I can only describe as dramatic. Trying to find a plot in it doesn't seem fruitful, but as a representation of fluid emotional states, or perhaps memories of emotional states, it really works for me. There are a number of musical elements that help it hang together as a whole as well, which is one reason that I think it's more successful (for me) than alot of Zorn's other work in this vein.

Really fun and beautiful piece of work, with top-notch downtown NY players, I might add. It's something to listen to with no other distractions, to let it pull you into its world for a little while. Like film that way.

itunes link:
John Zorn - Spillane

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