More than once Bill Dixon talked about music in terms of problems and solutions. Gerry Mulligan's quartet with Chet Baker was a solution to the problem of there being no piano. At least one semester of ensemble class with Dixon was dedicated to solving the problem of an ensemble with no drummer. Vade Mecum (5 stars, by the way) solved the problem posed by symmetric, academic sounding lines (and did so by
eliminating them all together.)
If you told me one of the problems solved by Zorn et.al. On The Gentle Side was how to extend the intro of Santana's Black Magic Woman for the entire length of a song, I'd be inclined to believe you. If you told me another problem solved was how to fill the spaces between shows on National Public Radio while simultaneously reaching out to the Grateful Dead listening demographic and their Gold Cards, I'd believe that too.
While listening, at times I found myself announcing to no one “partly sunny skies with winds out of the south west at 5 miles per hour.” Other times I found myself desperately looking for a rose to put between my teeth or a sombrero to wear—the gestures are vague enough that either would work.
As disparate as all the numbers are, they are, as suggested, unified by a gentleness. With that gentleness comes a certain anonymity. John Zorn? Really? Where?
That you can hear the professionalism in the playing and the production makes this recording that much more troubling; is there really nothing else left to do other than put out “professional” sounding stylized jazz-ish instrumentals?
An entirely unremarkable project.