John Zorn started the Tzadik label with Kazunori Sugiyama in 1995. Since then, this imprint has amassed a vast catalog of experimental music from the worlds of classical, jazz, rock and beyond.
It has also resisted the streaming economy — that is, until last week. As Zorn was celebrating his 70th birthday with concerts, most of Tzadik’s offerings began popping up on Spotify and other platforms.
The range of offerings — from over 800 releases — is astonishing. To get an idea, start with these 15 albums.
The large-group setting here offers extraordinary, maximalist power in the Jewish folk themes that Zorn wrote for his first Masada Quartet. (Later, he presented them in new arrangements that reflected his interest in chamber music and metal.)
Tzadik’s Composer Series line has spotlighted artists whose works deliver a synthesis of concert music and jazz or rock energies. In “Polish Folk Songs,” Hyla combines gorgeous string writing with percussive explosions and clarinet riffs.
Excerpts from radio dramas and live shows populate this multifaceted vocalist’s album. Even during a miniature like “So Tender,” Hirsch can create drama by deploying tensile torch-song vibrato, lip smooches and born-in-Brooklyn Jewish accents.
In one of Zorn’s most ravishing classical collections, boisterous items like “Hexentarot” elicit hot playing from select members of the JACK Quartet. “Missa Sine Voces” makes dreamy then abstract use of harp and vibes, and the soprano-and-strings “Pandora’s Box” packs plenty of drama into 14 minutes.
In the late 1990s, Tzadik was the best-distributed source for Japanese experimental rock in America. This 2006 set from its “New Japan” series is among the most unhinged, and most sublime. Credit the relentless energy of Yoshida, the Ruins drummer, as well as Haino’s textured yelping and guitar playing.
This saxophonist and bandleader was also active as a chamber music composer — one to whom the classical mainstream paid scant attention, but for whom Tzadik rolled out the red carpet. On the title track, spare material alternates with jolting motivic activity, with Hemphill’s partner, Ursula Oppens, at the piano.
This composer’s 2012 set reflects her vast talent: Percussion, piano and cello take their at-bats during “Wild Pitch”; a sampling keyboard and Roger Kleier’s electric guitar power an excerpt from “Daughters of the Industrial Revolution”; “Phantom Shakedown” offers Cagean meditation; and the title work is a thrilling cello concerto.
Zorn’s famed “file card” pieces advertised a quick-cutting, cinematic experience for the ears. “Godard,” a mid-1980s entry, was reissued by Tzadik in 1999. And it does evoke the French New Wave works of Jean-Luc Godard, particularly “Alphaville.” It also offers a look at a distinguished Zorn collaborator, the turntablist Christian Marclay.
This release presents a wide-angle Lewis portrait. “North Star Boogaloo” is a kinetic work for samples and the solo percussionist Steven Schick. “Smashing Clusters” reinterprets the legacy of Harlem stride piano legends. And in “Voyager” Lewis plays trombone against orchestral backing realized by his improvising software program of the same name.
Mori’s solo-electronics sets have been important to Tzadik, but her skill as a collaborator is just as crucial. Here, she teams up with Craig Taborn, a jazz-world star, for a set of improvisations that cavort and splinter with indefatigable invention.
This concert date doesn’t benefit from the wild contributions of the ensemble’s regular vocalist Yamataka Eye. Even so, Zorn’s early rock group — capable of delivering grindcore in one minute and the “Batman” TV theme the next — puts on quite the show.
Tzadik championed Smith, reissuing his early albums and putting out new sets. There’s a great band on this one, with the composer on trumpet, Jack DeJohnette on drums and Malachi Favors Magoustous on bass, as well as Anthony Davis on piano.
Derek Bailey: ‘Ballads’
Bailey, a giant of the free-improvisation scene, enjoyed a fine late-career run on Tzadik, including this at-first-glance quizzical approach to jazz’s core songbook. But the precise use of extended techniques lends an idiosyncratic grace to the chords that you can barely glimpse when Bailey plays “Stella by Starlight.”
This American artist was recently celebrated at the Darmstadt Summer Course in Germany. Yet he rarely receives the kind of attention he deserves at home. On Tzadik, he does: Here, there is variety, including a duo for Wadada Leo Smith and Anthony Davis, as well as the chamber orchestral highlight “Again.”
John Zorn: ‘Spinoza’
Simulacrum is one of Zorn’s best groups: a fine-tuned metal band and a smoking jazz-organ trio. Typically, he doesn’t play with the ensemble, but on this 2022 set, he pulls out his sax for the second suite. Both of the album’s long tracks are protean in style, yet unmistakably driven. Very Tzadik.