CHRISTMAS DREAMING

Want a Christmas album by a New York composer of Jewish heritage that is totally not a turkey? Step this way.

John Zorn started recording in 1980 at age 27. Later than Mozart, certainly, yet in the years following he has amassed over one hundred recordings under his own name. And there’s more. He has appeared on, composed for, produced or otherwise stuck his thumb into another hundred. That’s an exceptional work rate by any standards and there are plums aplenty.

So it is not surprising that the name Zorn crops up quite often, especially in avant-grade circles. One name-check appeared in Laurie Anderson’s November 2013 (Rolling Stone) farewell to partner Lou Reed.

I met Lou in Munich, not New York. It was 1992, and we were both playing in John Zorn’s Kristallnacht festival commemorating the Night of Broken Glass in 1938, which marked the beginning of the Holocaust. I remember looking at the rattled expressions on the customs officials’ faces as a constant stream of Zorn’s musicians came through customs all wearing bright red RHYTHM AND JEWS! T-shirts.

The year 2011 was a very quiet one for John Zorn: only four albums released under his own name. This lamentable torpor, by the way, was remedied the next year with a more productive 10 records. Plus other projects, of course.

Back to 2011. Into that under-utilised space was born the idea of an album of Christmas music . Why not? For a Jewish New Yorker to produce a Christmas album should not, I guess, be a major leap. Well, not for Mr Zorn, anyway.

Also unsurprising is how good it is. So good, in fact, that you forget that it is a Christmas LP. Well, you might if it wasn’t infused with the aural richness of brandy-bathed pudding, the heady aromas of high class playing and treasures to discover just like silver sixpences, only better because they don’t shatter your teeth.

And it looks so beautiful. A platter as white as newly fallen snow, edged in pine-frond green and scattered with gorgeous little naive drawings (artwork and design are by ‘Chippy’). It’s a slab of magic nougat that pleads ‘nibble me’.

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The songs have been chosen with thoughtfulness and care; just what you want when receiving a gift. It’s jazz, but not distancing. Accustomed tunes like ‘Winter Wonderland’ and ‘Santa Claus is coming to town’ will help those not so jazz orientated navigate the musical landscape.

A bonus present is that each side has a Zorn original, new pieces that refresh the ears with novel melodies while managing to evoke the spirit of yuletide magic. ‘Santa’s Workshop’ has a tinge of Latin and a spray of surf guitar from Marc Ribot and you don’t often read that in a festive season album review. ‘Magical Sleigh Ride’ begins a bit mysteriously and unfolds with unusual textures and rhythmic colourings. It also has Jamie Saft playing his Fender Rhodes, an instrument beloved by Vinyl Connection.

Christmas magic is in these grooves and although I have only begun appreciating the whole Christmas malarkey since the boy came along, John Zorn’s A Dreamers Christmas (Tzadik 2011) has made a believer out of me. Rarely has the label on a package been so accurate:

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A version of this article first appeared in December 2013 for Vinyl Connection’s first Christmas. I thought it worth re-jigging.

Meanwhile, while we’re talking archives, a longish Christmas story appeared here.

And a new seasonal memoir/music piece is on the way.  Ho HO!

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25 comments

  1. I can not listen to C -word music until the evening of the 24th, and continue on until the 25th. Then no more until the following year. I do have some C – word albums that I should be able to finish by roughly 2082.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sure it is a good policy to ration these things. Too much C-spirit can be bad for you, I’m told.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It can drive some people to the poor house.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. John Zorn has a Christmas album. Who knew! I’m glad he got back up to 10 albums under his own name the following year. WOW.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And it’s a good album, too!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Now that is cool looking vinyl! – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A post with all the classic Vinyl Connection wit and charm. Well worth re-visiting this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers. (As in Christmas Cheer-s)

      Like

  5. It’s funny how the wee ones can change our lenses – I used to consider the Santa Claus parade as being much worse than malarkey! But turning it into a family event, going out for dinner on the parade route, getting back outside in time to see the main attraction, I see the appeal!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. True enough. Sans offspring, it’s all still malarkey!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great piece, thanks Bruce. I know what will be playing at our place if I can get it.
    (Well after the Telemann stack I got for Z.)
    Best looking bit of vinyl I’ve seen.
    All the best.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks DD. It is very tasty vinyl indeed!
      Good luck with Teleman. I find half and hour is usually sufficient.

      Like

      1. I delight in T’s contrapuntal prowess. Partly due to your tutelage in how to listen to A Love Supreme!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Wonderful stuff. I can’t imagine Zorn’s Christmas music, i used to have a load of his jazz/hardcore/thrash stuff years ago (band were called Torture Garden?) which was amusing, but pretty damned unlistenable.

    I particularly love the sticker on the LP.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wouldn’t you just love to produce an album and be able to put a sticker like that on it?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Absolutely. I wonder if his mum collects all his stuff?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Sure. Think about his background. Of course she does. Has a special room for it and all.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. This is the one I had on tape:

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torture_Garden_(album)

          ‘Jazz snob, eat shit’ was a particular favourite.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. “there are no breaks between the screaming, the seemingly random saxophone blasts and grindcore”. Perfect Christmas listening!

          Liked by 1 person

        4. My in-laws will love it!

          I probably listened to it 3 times in 10 years, twice in the first week. It hurt.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. Yes, someone has A Dreamer’s Christmas on You Tube. Maybe a bit cutesy for me but sure beats the supermarket-aisle idea of Christmas.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. He’s a fairly prolific character, huh? Not sure I’d like a full album worth of this type of festive cheer, but you have to applaud some infectious and cheery tunes, don’t you? Especially when it comes wrapped like this does. Super!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. My 20-something kids still get presents from Santa under the tree. This may be right up my sentimental alley. Also, why do vinyl weirdos get all the cool stuff?

    Like

    1. Vinyl Weirdos (note capitals, please) have extremely sensitive noses for the obscure, the fetishist, and the just plain weird. It’s what we do instead of living real lives.

      Like

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