Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Keith Jarrett: The Köln Concert

The recent post on Cecil Taylor's solo masterpiece, Air Above Mountains (Buildings Within), is a nice (!) comparison and contrast to this one on another pianist whose solo work has been acclaimed.  Keith Jarrett has, however, had a far larger audience than Taylor because his music has not been perceived to have been near as adventurous (though, at times, Jarrett has alienated some of his longtime followers by excursions into freer, more atonal material, though nothing near as "out" as Taylor at his most accessible.)

While it might be easy for devotees of one to suggest that their favorite is superior to the other, YHB enjoys the music of both for different reasons, not the least of which is whatever mood happens to suggest listening to one as opposed to the other.  Taylor and Jarrett, different as they may be, are both possessed of protean talents, able to improvise entire solo concerts with prodigious technical abilities, and, as importantly, throw themselves completely into what they do.  It is this latter quality which seems most impressive to this blogger, because there are many excellent pianists who can improvise with imagination and precision, but these two inhabit a plane that is elevated because of their total commitment and immersion in the power of the moment when they dazzle in that solo concert setting.

Jarrett, born in Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1946, was a child prodigy on his instrument and made his first splash in the jazz world as a member of the popular Charles Lloyd Quartet in the mid-1960s.  He started his solo career about 1967, though was a member of the electric Miles Davis group in 1970, despite his public dislike of electric pianos and organs, and appeared on such recordings as Live-Evil.  In the earl 1970s, he agreed to record for a brand new German label, ECM, ran by Manfred Eicher, and the partnership has been a 40-year success for both.  Of the dozens of Jarrett released on the label, his solo works and the "standards trio" he has worked with for over 30 years, including bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack deJohnette, have been his most successful endeavors.

Jarrett's 1975 recording, The Köln Concert, is generally acclaimed as perhaps his greatest work.  For an hour and ten minutes, the pianist takes the listener on an exploration of many melodic and rhythmic concepts that, to some, preface the coming of "new age" music, though, to this listener, the recording has no relation to so-called "new age."  All that comes to mind is that the wildly experimental work of Taylor or the heavier and denser, but also highly melodic, work of McCoy Tyner might leave the impression that, comparatively speaking, Jarrett's lighter touch and use of silence and space appear to be a precursor to, say, George Winston.

Really, though, Jarrett's playing is beautiful, hypnotic, inventive and brimming with passion, exemplified by the grunts, groans, shouts and other manifestations of emotion that are highly annoying to some, as are the visual representations in which Jarrett writhes, wriggles and otherwise contorts himself as he channels the spirit of the moment.  It doesn't appear in any way to YHB that any of this is contrived, but these aspects of his performances, as well as some of his interview and liner note statements lead some to conclude that Jarrett falls prey to a form of self-indulgence that detracts from the experience of listening.  Without disputing anyone's right to feel that way, obviously, YHB can only say that these aspects of the musician seem totally honest and deeply-held and do not take away from the enjoyment of this incredible musician's work.

In fact, for all of the exciting playing on The Köln Concert, it may be as equally impressive that Jarrett did this under very difficult conditions.  He had a long, draining drive to the German city after playing a show a few days before in Switzerland.  Jarrett also had a serious back injury that required him to wear a brace, yet the pain was still so intense that he had very little sleep during the trip and he very nearly cancelled the show, which took place on 24 January. 

Moreover, his request for a particular type of Bosendorfer piano was followed by the obtaining of the wrong instrument, which was so poor, that Jarrett had to find ways to make up for deficiencies in the bass range by playing ostinatos and rolling rhythms with the left hand.  He also used vamps of a single chord or two for long periods of time, the repetitiveness of which often draws criticism, but which, to this listener, are part of establishing a deep, solid groove against which the derive his beautiful sweeping melodies.  In fact, his melodies often seem folk-like or have a tinge of country or rock in them and his classical training also appears to take much of the playing away from the syncopated rhythms associated with jazz (in quite a different way, Cecil Taylor's classical training leads him to play in ways that seem removed from most jazz piano, as well.)

This may account for Jarrett's unusual popularity--this recording, the best selling of any solo piano work period, much less that of jazz, has sold nearly 4 million units--in the fact that his playing is more "accessible" than that of other jazz pianists.  Those long repetitive chords in rhythm and his sprightly melodic sense have, some jazz lovers complained, been more pop or rock than jazz should be.  As if jazz has ever had a fixed set of criteria for pianists to follow.  One can run the gamut from Jelly Roll Morton, Art Tatum, Duke Ellington, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Cecil Taylor, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner to untold others and then figure out whether there is a standard approach to how to play "jazz piano" and apply that to Jarrett (or, for that matter, to Brad Mehldau, who does just fine working with pop and rock songs in innovative and exciting ways, too.)

There are many other remarkable Keith Jarrett solo recordings out there (Vienna, Sun Bear, Radiance and the recent Sol come to mind), but the Köln is the one that has the biggest impact on fans (and, perhaps, the most resistance from critics.)  To this listener, it is one of the signal jazz recordings of any type and testament to the talent of one of the most imaginative and inspired musicians anywhere.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Orb: The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld

One of the quirkier, ambient, spacier (drug-wise and other-wise), humorous and irreverent of the major electronica acts that burst forth from England in the late 1980s and early 1990s, The Orb found a pretty substantial audience for its debut record, The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, which came out in 1991, but featured several tracks that had long been known as singles on the British house scene.

The Orb was initially a partnership between DJ Alex Paterson and Jimmy Cauty, of the well-known duo The KLF.  The two split in a disagreement on how to present their music for a first album and Paterson went on to do some work with former Killing Joke member Martin Glover, also known as Youth.  Kris Weston (under the moniker of "Thrash") and Andy Falconer then joined Paterson as a full member of The Orb, with guitarist Steve Hillage, associated with the so-called Canterbury music scene of the early 1970s, but also a record producer and electronica performer, as well, making contributions, as did producer Thomas Fehlmann.

Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld is replete with unusual electronic sounds and samples from a wide range of sources from music, film, and even bible reading recordings.  A thinly-disguised admiration, repeated in various ways over the years, for the music of Pink Floyd is visually demonstrated with an enhanced photo of the Battersea Power Station, which was presented on the album cover of the Floyd album, Animals and in the song title "Back Side of the Moon."

The two-disc release, originally produced for British and European released (the American version was a single-disc version), begins with the memorable "Little Fluffy Clouds," by Paterson and Glover, which uses as its centerpiece a strange interview with singer Rickie Lee Jones and her recollections of the clouds in her childhood home in Arizona.  There are, however, three other samples, including one of harmonica sounds from an Ennio Morricone piece and another from the remarkable composition "Electric Counterpoint," written by the great Steve Reich and played by guitarist Pat Metheny (and which will be the subject of a post at some time.)  Jones' management sued over the use of the sample of her voice, which led to speculation that she was high when she gave the interview (Jones claimed she had a bad cold), while Reich was pleased to be sampled, but also demanded a quarter of any royalties for the piece.

From there, the music consists of washes of electronic sound, generally subdued rhythms as well as more upfront sampled and electronic drum sounds, dub-like effects, occasional guitar treatments and a wide array of samples from the film Flash Gordon (including the delighfully devious intonation of the word "earth" by actor Peter Wyngarde), bible readings, and snippets of such varied musical sources as The Sex Pistols, jazz pianst Bill Evans, dub master Lee "Scratch" Perry, baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi, and most notably, the 1970s soul ballad "Loving You" and the 5 and 1/2 octave range of its singer, Minnie Riperton, who had died years before the release of The Orb's record, but whose management sued to have her vocals removed from the recording, so a copy vocal was used instead on later versions.

One of the distinctive features of the record is that it is continuous and this merging of one piece to another, provided one enjoys the kind of "ambient house" that made this album a seminal one in that "genre", gives it a unified and cohesive structure.  The ambient feeling of the record is best exemplified in the live recording of the oft-heralded "A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld," whic had the Riperton sample (as well as from the Grace Jones hit "Slave to the Rhythm") and is centered on a hypnotic, looping groove.

Ambient music has become a fascination, in varied forms, for this blogger and this record, in the U.S. version purchased in 1991, was one of the earliest exposures to it, aside from some of the essential work done by Cabaret Voltaire years before.  The Orb will be featured again in this blog, but Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld remains high (pardon the pun) on the list of memorable electronic albums among many enjoyed by YHB.

The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld: Double Album (Island Records, 1991)

Orbit Compact Disc

Earth Orbit One:  Little Fluffy Clouds  4:27
Earth Orbit Two:  Earth (Gaia)  9:48
Earth Orbit Three:  Super Nova at the End of the Universe  11:56
Lunar Orbit Four:  Back Side of the Moon  14:15
Lunar Orbit Five:  Spanish Castles in Space:  15:06

Ultraworld Compact Disc

Ultraworld Probe Six:  Perpetual Dawn  9:32
Ultraworld Probe Seven:  Into the Fourth Dimension  9:15
Ultraworld Probe Eight:  Outlands  8:23
Ultraworld Nine:  Star 6 & 7 8 9  8:10
Ultraworld Ten:  A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld: Live Mix MK 10  18:49

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Iannis Xenakis: Works for Piano

Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001), who fought in the resistance against the Axis powers during World War II, during which he lost an eye, and then moved to France, where he remained for the duration of his life was a trained architect and engineer, an enthusiast of mathematics and computers, and a composer.  This remarkable combination of skills and interests marked him as one of the most formidale and controversial of postwar music.

Born to Greek parents in Romania, Xenakis entered a boarding school in Greece at ten and was just preparing his college work in architecture and engineering, while also expressing an interest in music, when the war broke out and Greece was occupied by German forces until 1944.  Xenakis actually lost his left eye from a shell when the British occupation of Greece took place and he was protesting against their presence, despite England's role in ousting the Axis powers, because the British favored restoring the Greek monarchy while Xenakis and others preferred another path (he was then a Communist.)

Xenakis was able to continue his university studies, completing his engineering degree in 1947, but the Greek government's program to round up former members of the resistance, led him to flee the country and settle in France.  In the militaristic Greek postwar period, Xenakis was sentenced to death, then to a long prison term (of course, in absentia) before being pardoned when civilian government returned in the 1970s.

In Paris, Xenakis found work with the famed architect Le Courbusier and worked on some major architectural projects, while simultaneously studying harmony, counterpoint and composition.  After such major figures as Nadia Boulanger, Arthur Honegger and Darius Milhaud rejected his unusual approaches to music, a sympathetic soul was found in Olivier Messiaen, who encouraged his student to apply his architectural and mathematical skills to the serialism that was embraced by Xenakis.

By the mid-1950s, Xenakis was becoming recognized for his work, including Metastaseis (1953-54.)  He also began working with electronic sound, in what was generally called musique concrete.  He also became a noted teacher as well as a composer and was deeply interested in the use of computer programming and complicated mathematical formulas to develop scores.  Even though this mechanical approach might appear to have the makings of producing music absent of human feeling, Xenakis' ability to program mathematical formulas did not leave that impression, unless modern music leaves the listener cold, regardless of how the composition is created.

Although most of his work was done in France, Xenakis did have a several-years stint teaching at Indiana University in the late 1960s and early 1970s and for three years in the later 70s in England.  He also wrote several treatises on musical concepts.

Xenakis referred to his complex, densely rhythmic, heavily timbral music as "stochastic," meaning that there was a major element of indeterminacy, perhaps in open scoring or alternate systems of notation as well as the complex mathematical equations used, often fed into computers, within an overall structure.  So, unlike John Cage's sense of indeterminacy, where randomness completely rules the roost, Xenakis has a logical ordering of a piece based on mathematical and other scientific models but with a measure of chance operations. 

At the same time, Xenakis considered himself an ancient Greek soul in a modern body and was heavily influenced by Greek and Byzantine music, the latter coming from his youthful exposure to the Greek Orthodox Church, as well as ancient Greek mathematical concepts from the great Pythagoras, who related music and numbers in his work.

Later in his career, Xenakis, who used logical concepts involving game theory, algebraic ideas, vector analysis, and other methods previously, began to use visual imagery, called "arborescences" in his compositions and the images of sound were shown as roots, branches and other tree-like components that found a way to tie in his unusual ideas in a form distinct from traditional scores and also paved the way for a composition technique called UPIC, in which an electromagnetic pen was used on a specialized table for creating shapes that were computer manipulated into sounds immediately.  He also composed using light and lasers in some works.

For this rank amateur, the finer points of Xenakis' many techniques is almost always elusive, but the reaction to the music is still one of wonder, surprise, awe and, occasionally, exasperation in trying to read about the technical aspects while trying to listen and appreciate the powerful mind of the composer.

One way, perhaps, to best fuse the challenging music of Xenakis with an emotional reach is through his works for piano, an instrument that seems to best connect intellectually and emotionallly for the listener.  Part of a fine series of the composer's work from the Mode label is the Works for Piano compilation, rleased in 1999.  Featuring the work of a longtime student and friend, Aki Takahashi, this recording presents six pieces, most from the 1970s and 1980s, excepting the solo "Herma" from the early 1960s.  Four of the works are solos for Takahashi, while one pairs her with violinist Jane Peters and the other, "Palimpsest," finds her with percussion, strings and wind instruments.

For this listener, the first three pieces are the best with "Herma" and "Evryali" allowing Takahashi to use her formidable talents bringing these complicated works to life in a way that taps into the emotional expressiveness of the piano, even with highly complex, modern compositions.  Similarly, the duet of piano and the emotive violin of Peters on "Dikhthas" is notable and the nearly 15-minute piece moves so well that it seems far shorter, at least to these ears, than that.  Truthfully, the other works are also fine, with the combination of varied instruments on "Palimpsest" providing a needed break and contrast to the solo and duet work found elsewhere.  And, the closer, the short "A.R. (Hommage a Ravel)," gives Takahashi the environment for virtuoso work in chains of extremely rapid notes with breaks of long extended chords and then finishing with more fast runs ending with a jarring low cluster of notes at the end.

Iannis Xenakis was a prolific composer with a varied portfolio employing a wide range of techniques and applications--his work will be featured here again several times.  If there is a way to get "introduced" to his music to new listeners, this piano-centric release might be the best avenue, although, truthfully, its very modern approach might be forbidding regardless.  If a listener is up for the challenge, though, the music can be very rewarding and enlightening.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Foday Musa Suso: Hand Power

The music of the kora, a 21-string bridge harp made from half of a large calabash covered by a cow skin for resonance and then strung on a long neck, is one of the most beautiful in the world.  Emanating from the jali or griots, that is, master musicians, from west Africa, the music of the kora is immediately identifiable by anyone who knows the western harp.

One of the better-known griots to worldwide audiences is Foday Musa Suso from Gambia, who is also an oral historian, singer, and composer, heralded for his maintenance of Mandingo traditions, while also incorporating western influences that complement the traditional instruments he plays.  It is said that his direct ancestor Madi Wlen Suso invented the kora over 400 years ago. 

Although Suso's father was also a master kora player, it is not traditional for fathers to instruct their sons, so Suso was sent to another teacher and remained in study until he was 18.  For three years, he taught kora performance at a university in neighboring Ghana.  In 1977, he became the first jali to migrate to the United States, settling in Chicago, which happens to be the home of Flying Fish Records.  He formed the Mandingo Griot Society as part of his efforts to fuse west African and western music and also became an associate of the ubiquitous Bill Laswell, already featured in many posts of this blog.  Through Laswell, Suso recorded with Herbie Hancock, Ginger Baker and Pharoah Sanders and he also has worked with Paul Simon, the Kronos Quartet and many others.  His compositions were performed at the Olympic Summer Games in 1984 at Los Angeles and in Athens in 2004.

On 1984's Hand Power, Suso's fourth album and released in the U.S. on Flying Fish Records, the kora master plays a dozen instruments with overdubbing of from three to six of them on any one track.  In addition to the kora, Suso handles various percussion instruments and the western instruments of electric guitar and harmonica.  The six pieces are very close in length to one another, ranging generally around seven minutes and featuring Suso's lead vocals with support on two tracks from a backing vocalist.

Part of the griot tradition is what is called "praise singing" and all the tracks fall under this category, with the first giving credit to the founding president of independent Gambia, Sir Dawda Jawara.  The second "Tesito" invokes the title word as a call to his fellow Gambians to "redouble effort" in building up their country.  "Fatoto Camara Kunda" is about the family named Fataoto Camara.  "Julla Fasso" is a praise song for Suso's home village in Foday Kunda, Wali district.  The track "Tramakang" reaches back into ancient history to sing the praises of a great warrior from the Mali Empire in the 13th century.  Finally, "Ye Goni" refers to the music of dousongoni, as played in the village of Bambugu.

Traditional instruments do form the core of the album, with the electric guitar only used on "Tesito"  and the harmonica on "Ye Goni."  They blend in perfectly with the native instrumentation and provide a support and complementarity that provide the best in what fusion can be.  Indeed, his many collaborations with western musicians demonstrate this.  Now based in Seattle, Suso continues to actively promote his unique fusion of music and Hand Power is a great way to get introduced to this fantastic artist, who will be profiled here again in conjunction with other projects with Laswell.

Foday Musa Suso:  Hand Power (Flying Fish Records, 1984)

1.  Sir Dawda Jawara  6:39
2.  Tesito  6:53
3.  Fatoto Camara Kunda  7:06
4.  Julla Fasso  6:59
5.  Tramakang  6:54
6.  Ye Goni  7:07

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Cecil Taylor: Air Above Mountains (Buildings Within)

The title is for the entirety of this astonishing 76-minute solo performance by Cecil Taylor, on what seems to be the 92-key (yes, 92) Bösendorfer piano that had the extra keys for Taylor to get in more of the wide-ranging orchestral sound for which he is (in)famous, appears to refer to the setting.

This mounumental performance took place on 20 August 1976 at an open-air festival at Moosham Castle in Austria (click here to see the official Web site with photos), which must have been a phenomenal setting and inspiration for the pianist.

Almost any of Taylor's music is challenging and really requires concentrated focus in listening.  For this reason, a lot of people who try listening to him are easily turned off.  His playing is complex, sometimes called atonal (though it doesn't appear that way to this listener), staggering in its technical abilities, and highly percussive and, as noted above, orchestral.  It is not a music providing obvious melodic and harmonic enjoyment.  The pleasure is in being drawn in and held captive to the all-encompassing world that is a Taylor performance, especially in these solo piano concerts.

In Taylor's somewhat cryptic poetry as liner notes, there are hints as to what is he about, or at least so it appears to YHB.  For example, he notes that "technique is weapon to do whatever / must be done/is self-determined / reflective of application / of ancient ritual within family."  It has been said that a Taylor concert or recording is a ritualistic experience. 

Elsewhere, he writes about the "ability to relate instantly, & build concomitant / sound structures: improvisation" and that the music is the "co-ordination of physique (muscles, the mind) / existing as one reasoned act thru erasure / of written note."  Taylor's phenomenal improvisational excursions are definitely the melding of the incredible responsiveness of mind and body in a "reasoned" way, not chaotic or anarchic, but built from years of practice and application.

When the pianist writes further of "Creating Music as sound within / the whole body; which must be brought / to level of total depersonalized realization . . .," it can be understood that Taylor totally devotes himself to playing in a way that has, it has often been reported, leaves him totally exhausted after an all-consuming performance.

The ritual as spiritual seems explained by his remark that "To Play what one hears is our objective Downward & inward are the forces bent to live as recognition of the invisible: spirit" as well as the idea that "sound as a language: communication / the total event being larger than the / combination of individual parts."  And, there is the matter of "trance is the unreasoning / reflection being possible / thru multi-layered / rhythmical complexes . . .

The experience of making music is "recognition of nuance, instinctive / ability relearned released, unchained / to then become forces moving as part of the Universe."  Finally, in the conclusion of these interesting liner notes-as-poetry, Taylor offers that "Improvisation is a tool of refinement / an attempt to capture 'dark' instinct / cultivation of the acculturated / to learn one's nature in response to / group (society) first hearing 'beat' / as it exists in each living organism."

If all this seems strange, abstractly mystical, and pretentious, it is, at least, Taylor's expression of feeling about this music and there is no reason to doubt his total commitment to its statements.  Knowing what Taylor has stated, whether in liner notes or interviews, and the commentary is almost never straightforward and simple, it might help to listen to the music while reading what the composer/performer writes.

One thing is for certain:  Cecil Taylor's world is a totally immersive one, both from the standpoint of his performances and what a listeners should probably be willing (maybe there's no choice?) to bring to the listening.  Branford Marsalis was once quoted as being profanely contemptible of Taylor's notion that a listener needed to prepare and practice before listening to one of the pianist's performances or recordings. 

Why would it be unreasonable for Taylor, who throws everything he has at a project, to expect a listener to come ready and able, through a concentrated effort, to be part of that experience?  At least you know his expectations and, if you're willing to accept the gauntlet, the results could be amazingly powerful.  Well, this blogger thinks so, but knows this is not music for everyone, which is not inherently bad, good or indifferent.

After hearing some thirty of Taylor's records over the years, this listeners feels that anything else than a great appreciaton or utter contempt is probably not realistic.  Can there be a middle ground with someone like Cecil Taylor?  Air Above Mountains (Buildings Within) is a tremendous record, if you are of a mind to take the all-consuming journey.  Otherwise, it would take just moments to decide not to.  This blogger is glad that, twenty or so years ago, the leap of faith was made.  It took a while, but the benefits have been manifold and welcomed.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Naked City: Torture Garden

When, in 1990, the effort by YHB to explore a wide variety of music (or, at least organized, sound) was launched, one of the earliest explorations into some of the more extreme forms of music/sound came with the Torture Garden album by Naked City.  And, at the time, it didn't get too much more extreme than this, though newer forms of music/sound make this stuff seem pretty quaint nowadays!

This project was spearheaded by the fantastically iconoclastic and polymusical (is that an actual word?) figures in modern music, alto saxophonist John Zorn, who had become infatuated with grindcore and other extreme forms of music/sound as exemplified by such groups as Godflesh and Napalm Death (whose original drummer, Mick Harris, will be featured here later, including in the remarkable trio PainKiller with Zorn and uber-bassist/producer Bill Laswell.)

Whereas many could argue that the musicianship in hardcore/grindcore/whatever-you-want-to-call-it-core may not be technically proficient (as if that matters,) the lineup that Zorn pulled together in Naked City is phenomenal.  Guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Fred Frith, keyboardist Wayne Horvitz and drummer Joey Baron are all masters of their respective instruments, though never heard in a context like this.  Joining the esteemed ensemble is vocalist Yamatsuka (Yamantaka) Eye of the legendary Japanese punk collective, The Boredoms.

In under 26 minutes, Naked City blasts, rips, tears, wails, careens, caterwauls, screams, and plows through forty-two "hardcore miniatures" that run the gamut of sounds that use or mirror music boxes, cartoon soundtracks, dub, jazz, country (yes, country), metal, and many other types/genres/varieties, often in the same forty-two second or eight-second tune.  Tempos abruptly shift, Eye's screams come and go, the tinkling of the piano's ivories give way to Frisell's wailing guitar, Baron's pounding drums segue into a dub beat, Frith's bass goes from fuzzy to jazzy to something more guttural and menacing, and Horvitz goes from that piano to an organ in seconds.  If anything, the only constants are Eye's "vocal" gesticulations and Zorn's wailing sax (though, on occasion, he peels off a calmer riff or two.)

As to the tunes, there are many notable examples of the Naked City aesthetic to bring up.  "Speedfreaks", in all of 52 seconds, is a cut-up mish-mash of every conceivable style Zorn can cram into it, but it's also fascinating, which can be said for the 48-second "The Prestidigitator" as well.  "NY. Flat Top Box" has a country shuffle feel for much of the piece, before some hardcore blasts interrupt, and then comes a sweet finale back to the earlier feel. "Hammerhead" is a 12-second blast of unalloyed noise.  The last several seconds of "The Blade" is Eye bellowing the most hair-raising scream perhaps on record (and, hence, gives the tune its title?] 

"Igneous Ejaculation" [yes, you have to accept some of these titles as part of the gallows humor that drives much of this music; if not, you're merely disgusted, but, then you'd have to see the cover art, too] is a prime example of Baron's spectacular drumming, which actually is well displayed throughout the album, such as in "Ujaku."  "Fuck the Facts" and "Blooduster" are more powerful bursts of propulsive and unforgiving hardcore. 

"Jazz Snob Eat Shit" along with "Perfume of a Critic's Burning Flesh" and "New Jersey Scum Swamp" [which might have foretold a certain reality show now entering its last season?] give some idea of the "crude humor" that informs much of the record.  "Shangkuan Ling-Feng" starts with a snippet of a martial-arts film before launching into a killer riff, some sax/vocal screaming, a brief organ interlude, and then that riff followed by more sax/vocal bellowing and Eye's guttural grunt to conclude.  Finally, there is the fitting album closer, "Gob of Spit," which is to be taken literally, courtesy of Eye's true-to-life vocalization.

As to some of the more hardcore elements of this record, having heard Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcade six or so years before probably helped calibrate the ears somewhat for Torture Garden, although there is nothing that can really prepare anyone for the experience of hearing this record.  There are other Naked City albums that move into more darkly ambient (Absinthe), slowly grinding (Leng T'che) and schizophrenic (Radio and the first, eponymous album) territory, as well as a pretty impressive live album that skillfully recreates the abrupt stylistic and tempo changes on most of the records.

Torture Garden, though, has a strange, special place all its own.  For all of its musical mayhem, a listener would have to bring a particularly twisted (yet, healthy) sense of humor to the experience.  Otherwise, it might only take a minute, or thirty-eight seconds past that, or forty-five seconds further, to become completely disgusted and turned off by the spectacle.

And, this doesn't even deal with the cover art, consisting of one very colorful cartoonish artwork that is too graphic to even describe adequately in words, and a half-dozen or so photographs of intricate bondage scenes involving Japanese women.  The art work led Zorn's then-label, the respected Nonesuch, to balk at using the images, upon which Zorn left the label for the smaller Shimmy Disc. 

There's a recollection that Asian-American activists raised objections at the appearance of the cover (YHB had an early cassette version of the album), which led to its revamping.  Ironically, the album cover design, illustration, and photographs were done by Japanese and Japan has a particularly notable subculture of hyper-violent cartoon art and sexually-themed photography, such as bondage, that has been going on for years. 

It might be worth noting that this was not that long after the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit dustup in Cincinnati and Tipper Gore and the PMRC's "crusade" against filth and depravity in the music industry, so the shock value and absurdist humor of some forms of music, including the determinedly downtown version found in Torture Garden, don't translate well to lots and lots of people.  Even if the musicians on this record are all masterful and came up with a record that is fun, fascinating, rocking, trippy, bewildering, and, yeah, kooky.

Then again, that seems to describe much of John Zorn's oeuvre over a long and unpredictable career.  Which is why he's so cool.