John Zorn

Downtown Lullaby

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By the time this was recorded, in 1998, the participants were virtual éminence grises of the downtown New York City scene, but this was the first occasion for the four of them to play together as a quartet (although all but Zorn had been members of Horvitz's band the President). The pieces derive their titles from the addresses of erstwhile performing spaces largely in the East Village and Soho, most of which had their heydays in the loft jazz explosion of the late '70s. All of the cuts are improvised by the group, and the perhaps surprising aspect is how much of the vibe is closer to late Miles Davis than to the free improv aesthetic practiced in the titles' points of reference. Horvitz's keyboard work, with its echoes of '70s ring modulators, sets the mood for many of the tracks, Sharp and Previte acting as the Pete Cosey and Al Foster of the band. Previte, in fact, would shortly begin his own overtly Miles-influenced jamming group. Zorn is in a bit of a square-peg situation here, as his trademark squeals and murmurs don't quite mesh with the tenor of the date, although one could argue that they also keep things from getting too comfortable. However, free improvisation has never been the real forte of any of these musicians; all seem more comfortable in structured surroundings, even if those structures are highly arcane and idiosyncratic. When they get into a groove, as on "Bleeker & Bowery," the listener gladly hops on board for an enjoyable ride, but several of the remaining pieces seem uncertain as to which side of the funk/free improv divide is most desirable and, unfortunately, there's no Miles Davis to show how well they could combine. Downtown Lullaby isn't a bad record but, given the personnel, one would have hoped for more.

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