Monday, 9 April 2012

Naked City - Torture Garden (1989)

Naked City was a band led by saxophonist and composer John Zorn. Active primarily in New York City from 1988 to 1993, the band was initiated by Zorn as a "composition workshop" to test the limits of composition (and improvisation) in a traditional band lineup. Their music was to incorporate recognizable elements of basically every single genre you could possibly imagine.

Torture Garden was originally released in 1989 as a vinyl EP lasting just 26 minutes and containing a total of 42 tracks. I remember ordering this from the old WARP shop in Sheffield and on it's arrival, asked my buddy behind the counter to stick a few tracks on whilst I browsed. The shop was empty in 3 minutes flat. I knew from that short preview and the reaction it got from Sheffield's Indie / electronic cognoscenti that I'd like this record a lot.

Sure, the stats are interesting enough. Shortest track is 12 seconds long, track titles range from 'Jazz Snob Eat Shit' through 'Sack of Shit' to 'Osaka Bondage' and the cover art was allegedly taken from a Japanese S&M / snuff movie and subsequently withdrawn from sale but what about the music?

First this - The line-up was composed as follows;

John Zorn - saxophone
Bill Frisell - guitar
Fred Frith - bass guitar
Wayne Horvitz - keyboards
Joey Baron - drums
Yamatsuka Eye - vocals

These guys were all extremely accomplished players in their own right - Yamatsuka Eye was a visual artist at this stage more than a musician but went on to form the legendary Boredoms in the early 1990's. Check out any of the above names and they all have a serious pedigree. It was just so strange that a bunch of such talented musical visionaries could come together and create an album that initially sounded like a bunch of random noise, but that on further listens revealed an incredible amount of considered composition throughout. Every second brims with invention, different musical genres come and go within a matter of bars, Yamatsuka Eye's insanely unhinged babbling became a finely tuned instrument. The sheer relentlessness is truly exhilarating. 

The other thing that blew me away about this album was how well it was recorded. I had a very good hi-fi system at this time - stupidly expensive but capable of reproducing vinyl records to almost transcription levels. I couldn't believe how beautifully recorded, arranged and engineered this thing was. The soundstage was wide and perfectly arranged, the space between each frenetic note was captured perfectly - hell, you could even hear Zorn's fingernails tapping on the keys of his sax as he played. 

Ok, I'm aware I've waxed lyrical about every aspect of this album for long enough now but there's a perfectly good reason. There aren't many records I'd call indispensable but this is most certainly one of them. It's a classic. A must-have. Call it what you will.

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