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Thursday, November 2, 2023

The Tzadik Stream is a Flood (Part 1 of 2)

By Gary Chapin, Nick Ostrum and Lee Rice Epstein

Even weeks later, it’s amazing to consider the amount of “this kind of music” that came into wide availability when John Zorn decided to release MANY Tzadik recordings on a variety of streaming services. The levee has broke and there’s so much stuff out there … it’s hard to take it all in.The three of us have gone through the mass and hope to draw attention to some deep loves and discoveries. There wasn’t a rule that we not include Zorn recordings, but we seem to have decided to spotlight less celebrated works than the man himself. Here are some things.

Hasidic New Wave - The Complete Recordings (Radical Jewish Culture) 2012

Next to Masada, Hasidic New Wave may be the most iconic representation of Radical Jewish Culture. Mixing freylekhs and horas with jazz, avant-rock, and screaming improvisations. Trumpeter Frank London and saxophonist Greg Wall lead the group through their (seemingly) effortless blend of humor, niggunim, and wailing. This set collects the group's four albums for Knitting Factory Records, plus a bonus album of live cuts and remixes. Note, the physical set is out of print at this time. (LRE)

Compostela - Wadachi (New Japan) 1997

Consisting of Nakao Kanji (reeds and drums), Sekijima Takero (tuba) and band-leader Shinoda Masami (alto saxophone), Compostela blends elements of Japanese folk music, klezmer, Eastern European romps, 1930s trad jazz, 1960s protest ballads and avant-garde impulses into an oddly appealing concoction. The band based its approach on the Japanese chindon tradition of ludic street music, which certainly shines through in the songs performed here and their singular instrumentation. This is music to catch ears, maybe with a vaguely familiar melody here or there, and draw in to a corner or club, rather than to be performed at an audience. Especially for a band formed thousands of miles and decades away from the origins of some of these songs, this taps into a surprisingly vivid spirit. It is playful at times (Lebedik Un Freylekh), somber at others (La Plegaria A Un Labrador), but it never falls into mere mimesis. (NO)

Guy Klucevsek - Stolen Memories (Composer Series) 1996

Guy Klucevsek isn’t the only accordionist riding the knife’s edge inspired by world traditional music, klezmer, and avant garde composition and improv, but … well, maybe he is. In 1996, when this came out, it completely felt that way. This group—the Bantam Orchestra—is four people strong, and opens with the sort of world-building sound that only a group with an accordion can do. Klucevsek is joined by Sarah Parkins, violin; Margaret Parkins, cello and voice; and Achim Tang, bass. They move through Balkin sounding tunes, with their imprinted weirdo meters, playful dance tunes, and genuinely moving, tender wordless songs. (GC)

Syzygys - The Complete Studio Recordings (New Japan) 2003

Japanese pop meets Harry Partch's microtonal 43-tone scale. In the massive discography that is Tzadik Records, this might be one of the most infectious and joyful albums, along with the Eyes On Green live recording from Roppongi Inkstick. Syzygys is primarily the duo of Hitomi Shimizu on a 43-tone-to-an-octave reed organ and Hiromi Nishida, who studied violin in Egypt and Tunisia. A group that too-easily would be lost to time without Zorn's advocacy. (LRE)

Peter Scherer – Cronologia (Film Music) 1996

Cronologiais a collection of processed guitar, dark ambient tracks by the Swiss composer, producer and guitarist Peter Scherer. Although he is joined by some of the Tzadik circle on a few tracks – Zeena Parker on Camera X and New Russia, Cyro Baptiste on Reaper – as well as by Brazilian percussionist Naná Vasconcelos on Camera X and Reaper, this is largely a solo affair. Even the aforementioned tracks fit into the same brooding, but skillfully produced aesthetic, and the Parker, Baptiste and Vasconcelos’s contributions sound cut-and-pasted and, more generally, processed. It works well. Cronologiais an interesting album, one that lends itself equally to passive listening (even if a few tracks are beat or melody driven, these are sonic environments as much as they are songs) and to close scrutiny. The textures are rich, often richer than they first appear, though Scherer steers aways from the maximalist noise approach. When he hits his stride on tracks such as Go-shujin and Tot (along with Reaper, my favorites among these), he even meanders into Twin Peaks territory, liquid synth lines, strange screeches and all. (NO)

Milford Graves - Grand Unification (Composer Series) 1998


I love drum solo records, but generally find them hard to write about. Milford Graves solo recordings are stunning to experience, he uses a remarkable array of sound sources and his own voice to create his universes. Like the AACM crew and their “little instruments,” Graves knows how to tell stories with percussion. Two solo recordings are available in the Tzadik stream. The fact that I prefer 1998’s Grand Unification is no slight to 2000’s Stories. Both would top my list of “most interesting percussion solos ever.” (GC)

Meredith Monk - Beginnings (Oracles) 2009

Sourced from her personal archive, this collection of early Meredith Monk recordings is required listening for everyone interested in the avant-garde. Compiled from the first 20 years of recording and performing, Beginnings shows immediately Monk's brilliance from the start, with many of these recordings predating her contemporaries, like Glass and Riley. Starts with a gorgeous recording of "Greensleeves" in mid-60s folk chanteuse mode followed by "Nota," an early experiment in solo rounds, which showcase the warmth and lushness of her voice. (LRE)