John Zorn is a special character : the many faces of modern jazz.
He is :
1. A saxophonist : technically adept, yet I don't like his tone (often too cold : it's bizarre how he and Dave Douglas have this cold tone in Masada, while Greg Cohen (bass) and Joey Baron (drums) offer a warm sound.
2. A jazz composer : he is very strong in offering a mix of jazz with other influences, but especially klezmer. His best CDs are the Masada Live albums (Middelheim, Sevilla), but also his Bar Kokhba and his String Quartet releases are superb!
3. A soundtrack composer : he composes a soundtrack in a few hours (or so he writes in the liner notes for one of his Filmworks series (which one?). Nice music to listen to once (allright, twice).
4. A music publisher/producer : Tzadik, his label brings primarily klezmer-jazz and klezmer-rock, and new music. It's great how he offers young artists the opportunity to bring their music on CD, yet it has to fit within his vision.
5. A commercial genius : he managed to turn some unsellable music into a "branded" item. At the European Fnac stores, his label gets even a special section within the jazz department.
6. A wild improvisor : especially for his power and energy.
7. A duck quiff flute player : run away as fast as you can with your hands on your ears ("The Art Of Memory")
8. An avant-gardist : makes musical collages, tries out new things, not always with success, or at least not really my cup of tea (Spillane, Kristallnacht).
9. An everything-I-do-must-find-its-way-to-the-market : more than 100 albums under his own name in a timespan of 25 years, and the last few years on average 6 to 7 CDs per year! Zappa didn't manage to select his good from his trivial things too. So?
10. A romantic : why else would he advertise his jewish heritage in such a way, why would he be so terribly sentimental at times?
In sum, a guy with a very open spirit and a broad musical knowledge, but it would be better for him (and for my wallet!) to be a little bit more selective in what he publishes, preferably with a greater sense of self-criticism.
I find him fantastic. I find him awfull. Listen and judge. I have over 30 albums by Zorn, and most are worthwhile checking out.
Here is my list of favorites :
Masada - Live At Sevilla
Masada - Live at Middelheim
Masada - Live At Tonic
The Sony Clark Memorial Quartet
Bar Kokhba - Bar Kokhba
Bar Kokhba Sextet - 50th Anniversary, Vol 1, 2 & 3
The Circle Maker
Masada String Trio - 50th Anniversary
Masada String Trio - Azazel, Book Of Angels
Filmworks IX - Trembling Before G-D
Filmworks XI - Secret Lives
Filmworks XII - Invitation To A Suicide
Filmworks XV - Protocols of Zion
Filmworks XVI - The Working Man's Death
And here are some Tzadik releases you shouldn't miss from the Radical Jewish Culture Series :
Paul Brody - Beyond Babylon
Rob Burger - Lost Photograph
Ken Butler - Voices Of Anxious Objects
Anthony Coleman - Sephardic Tinge
Anthony Coleman - Morenica
Anthony Coleman - My Beautiful Garden is Open
The Cracow Klezmer Band - De Profundis
Davka - Lavy's Dream
Davka - Judith
Davka - Live
Marty Ehrlich - Sojourn
Erik Friedlander - Grains Of Paradise
Koby Israelite - Dance Of The Idiots
Koby Israelite - Orobas, Book Of Angels, vol. 4
Frank London - Invocations
Frank London - Scientist At Work
Frank London - Hazonos
Jon Madof - Masada Rock
Jon Madof - Shalosh
Eyal Maoz - Edom
New Klezmer Trio - Melt Zonk Rewire
Psamim - Abi Gezint! (Belgian!)
Ned Rothenberg - The Lumina Recordings
Satlah - Exodus
Greg Wall - Later Prophets
Yves Weyh - Zakaryah
Doug Wieselman - Dimly Lit
Dany Zamir - Satlah
Dany Zamir - Children Of Israel
I am sure I forgot plenty, but this is a great start, I would say.