Naked City was a band of excellent N.Y.C.-based improvisers from the late '80s to 1993, led by avant-alto saxophonist and composer John Zorn. Unlike their self-titled debut and the second Avant release Grand Guignol, there are no cover tunes on this release, entitled Radio. Several genres and bands are skillfully evoked, however, and helpfully listed in the liner notes in order of occurrence. Jazz, surf, R&B, death metal, funk, acid rock, and serialism are grafted together in this collection, often into the same song, and the band shifts genres, tempos, and arrangements on a dime.
Supposedly, Radio was conceived as a set for a college radio program, making it a kind of "Young Person's Guide to Naked City," beginning with accessible tunes, gradually building up listener tolerance to dissonance, and finally sandbagging the listener with evil blasts of dissonant metallic noise and convincing perpetrator-and-victim screaming.
Zorn gives ace guitarist Bill Frisell and versatile keyboardist Wayne Horvitz the space to shine on this collection, and both more than meet the challenges of these pieces. Avant-garde guitarist Fred Frith takes a supporting role in the band, supplying an in-the-pocket bass that keeps the funkier tracks cooking, and the depth and range of his playing on these tunes is a consistent pleasure.
Master drummer Joey Baron alternates restraint and abandon, keeping solid time on the jazz tunes, throwing tasty fills into the funk, and laying down a muscular, punishing thrash on the metal sections. Zorn himself does a fair amount of his balloon-animal-twisting squeals and sustained shrieking blasts, but he does vary the palette. Listed also as a full band member on Radio (but not performing on every piece) is Japanese noisecore/funk screamer Yamatsuka Eye of the Boredoms (now going by Yamataka Eye). His babbling, howling, choking, and flat-out screams of terror take many of the metal performances well over the top.