There are portions of New Traditions in East Asian Bar Bands that seem like the memory of music instead of music itself. John Zorn's work with films has enabled him to script a kind of music of the imagination. These pieces hang in mind-space like soundtracks to a dark, smoky film where the leading man finds himself absorbed by his environment -- alone in a bar in a country he can't quite seem to leave. The music itself varies greatly from piece to piece. Performed entirely by pairs of musicians, it is not surprising that it often is comprised of a kind of duality. The balanced pair of guitars in "Hu Die" at times mimic the shiamsen; at times they create atmospheric, noise-oriented drones. The second piece, "Hwang Chin-Ee," alternates between the distinctly Asian rhythms of temple drums, and the kind of Latin-influenced lounge music played for wealthy American couples in the '50s who were looking for an exotic experience . The alterations in "Qu'ê Trân" are more subtle -- instead of rhythm or mood, the interplay here is one of tone, with a mixture of deep, lingering waves of sound, tinkling like broken glass, and delicate notes hovering somewhere around a middle C. The spoken word pieces also lend an oppositional balance to the music -- written by Arto Lindsay, Myung Mi Kim, and Lyn Heinjan, respectively, they are in Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese. Themes of beauty, sexuality, and violence run throughout, the first and last pieces maintaining a narrative quality while "Hwang Chin-Ee" consists of short lyric pieces. The album as a whole is quite moving; it often contains a fragile beauty like a child on the verge of bursting into tears. This is one of John Zorn's greatest achievements to date.
AllMusic Review by Stacia Proefrock