Naked City

Naked City Live, Vol. 1: Knitting Factory 1989

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It's almost inconceivable to believe that Naked City, the vanguard supergroup comprised of John Zorn, Bill Frisell, Fred Frith, Wayne Horvitz, and Joey Baron, never recorded a live album during their tenure. This wonderfully recorded document from the dawn of the Knitting Factory provides ample evidence that Naked City was even more astonishing live than on their albums. The material comes mainly from the band's debut -- which was recorded some months later -- and has all the punch and sheer adrenaline-gushing verve that a new project brings out of its participants. From the stomping psychedelic lounge of "Batman" to the strolling, edgy R&B in "Latin Quarter," to the hardcore punk and roll of "You Will Be Shot" and the freewheeling improvisation that gives way to Addams Family-style surf music at the heart of "Shot in the Dark," in these first four selections, Naked City lays out a territorial map of the ground that they will stake as their own. But it's not enough to be wide-ranging and experimental and humorous: You have to be able to pull it off in style, and Naked City reveals beyond doubt that inside the grain of their collective voice as a unit, the sense of swing and movement is paramount -- check "Blood Duster," "Chinatown," "Den of Sins," etc., over 20 selections. The other magnificent thing about this live date juxtaposed with the band's studio outings is how different the solo impulses are. No two are the same from any member, and none of them made their way onto tape later. The stop- and start-on-a-dime histrionics of their hardcore attitude and Ornette Coleman-inspired improvisation is an open field against the tighter arrangements of the shimmering jazz noir and warped, blues-laden post-bop. This is not only essential for fans, but proves to be an accessible and wondrous introduction to a truly awesome, if short-lived, band.

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