John Zorn

Cobra [Double Disc]

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A masterpiece of eclecticism, this scintillatingly provocative double-CD reissue presents two similar though not identical groups on separate CDs. The first is the "Studio Version," with a slightly larger group and 15 tracks averaging about four minutes each. The second CD is the "Live Version," with five tracks averaging just over ten minutes apiece. The differences between the two are significant, though the clear sound, concept, and high level of musicianship are similar. John Zorn's role is that of "prompter," and while there are no notated parts, there are intricate rules that the players must follow. The result is a sort of fast-moving montage in which dramatic changes take place every few seconds or so. Many of the musicians are part of the so-called downtown New York crowd, who came to be associated with Zorn and his associates, but interestingly, pianist and fusion maestro Bob James performs on tapes on each set. (James actually began his career as an early avant-gardist.) As Zorn likes to do, a whole mishmash of styles is presented, from traditional classical sections to country clips to rock-drenched electric guitars to free jazz. The outstanding participants include trombonist Jim Staley, guitarist Elliott Sharp, turntable whiz Christian Marclay, and electric guitarist Bill Frisell. It is all presented in Zorn's wickedly demented style, which tends toward pastiche but fascinates with its energy and variety. For Zorn enthusiasts, this is a must-have release.