Shattering expectations has been a hallmark of John Zorn's career, but The Gift might surprise even longtime fans. It's basically Zorn's exotica record; a tribute to the sound made popular by the likes of Martin Denny and Les Baxter. A core band of Downtown heavyweights provide you with an easy-listening sound that conjures images of sand and surf, and warm summer nights. Of course, as conductor and arranger, Zorn is ultimately responsible for the sound, but what you hear is primarily the guitar of Marc Ribot, and the keyboards (mostly Wurlitzer and Farfisa) of Jamie Saft. Trevor Dunn, Joey Baron, and Cyro Baptista are the rhythm section, with Ned Rothenberg joining in on shakuhachi on one track, and another augmented by a string section and the trumpet of Dave Douglas. Zorn has been able to draw from an incredible talent pool for many years now, and always knows how to get fabulous performances out of them, no matter what the context. Although the New York scene is notorious for its noisemaking ability, people should stop being surprised at their ability to turn in beautiful, understated performances; and this recording is a prime example. The tunes have a laid-back beach vibe that cries out for cold beverages in the twilight. They succeed perfectly in creating the feel of classic exotica (à la Denny or Baxter), but still maintain their individual identities as players. Towards the end of the recording, the music takes a slightly spooky Morricone-esque turn (on "Bridge to the Beyond," the only track on which Zorn performs, on theremin and piano), but the reprise of "Makahaa" brings you right back to the islands. The Gift shows another more accessible side to John Zorn (see also Bar Kokhba and The Circle Maker). It might be said that he's mellowing with age, but expect the unexpected from Mr. Zorn. Despite the undeniable beauty of the music, underneath the pretty pink wrapping and bows of the outer slipcase, Zorn has included several paintings of young girls in the cover art that some people might find slightly disturbing, as if to underscore the idea that beauty itself is highly subjective.
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AllMusic Review by Sean Westergaard