40’s Insights – The Big Gundown

Preconceived Notions:  This one is mine, duh.  I remember thinking before I heard this album that Zorn was the most inaccessible musician I had ever heard, this record changed that.  Sure the source material wasn’t his, so that helped…but Zorn seemed content on this one to work within certain parameters that kept the work focused.

After Listening: First and foremost one has to realize that this is a tribute album to a terrific film composer.  And while I’m sure a valid, and put forth critique will be “I like Morricone’s better”, “Morricone is a genius, this is not” etc….it’s important to note that this is not a Morricone cover album.  Zorn is using Morricone’s source work to operate inside of and create pieces that are hybrids between faithful reproduction and the homage of Morricone’s influence on Zorn.  Zorn is basically saying, this guy was a monster and even though I normally create works nothing like his – here’s how they can influence me.   Zorn is trying to not just interpret, but also to create.

How does something like that take shape?  The concept is put into motion by Zorn having a deep understanding of the original works.  It’s a much deeper understanding at a note by note level, than most casual listeners. In fact, to truly appreciate this aspect of the album one would probably have to listen the Morricone work, and then the Zorn work immediately following each other (for each piece), but since that’s a ton of work with questionable pay-off for either non Morricone or non-Zorn enthusiasts…the cliff notes version is that Zorn sort of plays with each song’s construction…he makes some things louder, some things softer, some things faster, some things slower, some things played on different instruments, some things broken up and repeated, etc…

The Morricone style actually works with Zorn very well, mostly b/c Morricone himself was a fan of dissonance, atmosphere, and “random noises”…and as a film composer his music could be both passive, and actively commenting in the same piece of music.  Zorn’s interpretations flush out the instrumental arrangements a little further than the originals (although those were insanely diverse as well) you get no less than 30 different instruments (from oboes to turntables) on this record and so your sound scope is going to be large and in charge.  The musicians on this thing are top level from more recognizable players like Vernon Reid (Living Color) and Mike Patton (Faith No More etc) to the very best jazz/avant garde players like Bill Frisell and Big John Patton.   Heck even Dimanda Galas is on this thing, who in herself is one of the most fascinating female vocalists ever. (seriously check the wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diamanda_Gal%C3%A1s)

Style means little without substance we tell ourselves, and so thankfully the pieces of music on this: analyzed either in reference to Morricone, or as stand alone works past that test as well.  They range the gamut from cacophony to simple melody, and b/c it spans the life of an artist there are few dead spots – something new and different is always on the horizon.

Favorite Tracks:  “The Big Gundown” – This one lets you know about the album right away, from the pulsing bells (replacing the original’s guitar) that open frantically and then slide into the humorously placed random squeals, until finally we get into a “way out” space of vocals (which the original does have briefly) and jagged piano playing.  With the beginning half of the piece Zorn is trying to capture Morricone’s love of that spacey and random noise technique that makes up Western soundtracks.  You might catch the “woah boy”, clip in the background, or a sound of a spur spinning, as the track finally builds toward Morricone’s familiar theme…and even then Zorn doesn’t let us embrace it at 1st…he breaks it up with some more vocal conversation (real native language, nonsense?) , and some airy guitar, before it builds in rhythm and intensity and suddenly you’ve got a beautiful rendition of the vocals above it all.  There’s even a quick snippet of Beethoven in there. By the time you get to the last ¼ or so of the piece we get so many instruments and samples trading off, that I can’t help but smile as it comes to a conclusion with the impression of someone driving cattle.  It’s just a beautiful, thoughtful, chaotic, and funny approach to standard western classic.

Here’s the original again for comparison:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6IJKSsJVds

“Milano Odea” –  The simple guitar lines on this sort of play with tonality, they hit it then come off…but the unwavering rhythm underneath, and the piano riffs behind it bring a cohesion to it.  Zorn just keeps things straightforward simple and intense.  In truth, although many of the songs on this have more instrumentation….Zorn is sort of a minimalist at heart, and so you get a lot more raw stripped down sounds on this album than the originals.
“Giu La testa/Duck You Sucker” –  How mothergrabbing cool is this track?  Very.  The spacey beginning of flute, and synth – with some Asian percussion instruments is entirely a Zorn invention, and he does an excellent job with reworking the moods of this.  It’s at 1st classic western and mysterious, and it then gives way to a simply beautiful melancholy oboe line.   You get relieved of this, by a mouth harp led quirky section.  Is the piece schizophrenic?  Maybe, but it’s probably b/c it’s the amalgamation of two separate Morricone pieces. For me it all works and is wrapped up nicely by the vocal “shoop – shoop” outro…almost like you just finished listening to 50’s doo-wop when you know this isn’t the case. (this part however oddly is in the original as well)
Giu la testa original: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kB9OlIMfEfY
Duck you Sucker original http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSsTwB-tgvk&feature=related
“ Erotico (The Buglars) “ –  Zorn’s interpretation of this one, is a slightly stripped down affair which de-emphasizes the bass and rhythm sections in favor of pushing the guitar up to prominence.  The result is a very dirty sounding musical accompaniment, to let’s face it…very dirty sounding lyrics.  The keys also take the place of horns on this one, and all of it is a deliberate choice to stay out of the guitar’s way.  It’s just a raw stripped musical accompaniment to sensuous lyrical embellishment (which itself then pushes boundaries of absurdity – so you get a laugh).
The original is much more lush in arrangement http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8B2wbxI6CWY

Overall 5.0  I spent a long time searching for the quote, but I might only have it in the liner notes of the album-which I do not have in front of me….so you’re gonna have to trust me, when I tell you Enrico Morricone was very, very impressed with this album.  To Zorn, as a huge Morricone fan, I’m sure that’s all that matters…but if it means anything he hooked me into appreciation of both artists the day I heard this.  This is the perfect example of a 5.0 record to me – music isn’t always about humming along, tapping your foot etc. All of that has a place…where would we be without something listenable at all times?  But there are times we should be challenging ourselves aurally-engaging our ears as part of our critical thinking skill set. Because in addition to being emotive or familiar: music is also about being creative, being artistically free, making impressions, experimenting….here you have an album that gives you a glimpse into the mind of the artist by watching that artist come to grips with his major influences….and unlike most albums where an artist is the sum of many influences, perhaps more than half of the time unconsciously, here you have an attempt to engage one singular influence very actively.   The result is a work that honors both the creator and the muse – w/o the danger of becoming a carbon copy.

40 (45 Posts)

40 has had training enough in classical theory to know roughly what he's talking about. As for talent, he considers himself a crappy guitar player. He has a BA in Audio & Sound Recording BA, so not only does music creation intrigue him, but also music production. He believes that expression takes all forms, and it has to be remembered that music is an art form and is ultimately about connection, communication, experimentation, creativity, freedom, emotion, and 100’s of other things.

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