1/  Batrachophrenoboocosmomachia               (PainKiller)                  31.58
  2/  Transport of Sorcerers                     (PainKiller)                  6.11
  3/  Ahamkara                                   (PainKiller)                  10.01

          Recorded November 21, 1994 in Nagoya, Japan
          Recorded by Oz Fritz
          Produced by PainKiller
          Mastered by Scott Hull at Classic Sound, New York City
John Zorn: alto sax, vocals; Bill Laswell: bass; Mick Harris: drums, vocals.

          2002 - Tzadik (USA), TZ 7342 (CD)


The music called jazz has met at many intersections over the years and the incorporation of popular music into this creative format knows no limits. Tin Pan Alley, Brazilian, Rock, and Hip-Hop music have all been reconfigured into this most passionate music.

When John Zorn sought to combine his saxophone with the hardcore scene of the late '80s/early '90s, he attracted hard core fans to the music of Ornette Coleman with Spy vs. Spy, spun crazed, jump-cut film music with the band Naked City, and drew from hardcore/dub/metal for Painkiller. This trio, with bassist Bill Laswell (no stranger to hardcore and jazz from his Last Exit and Material days) and Mick Harris (of Napalm Death) fame, fit Zornís plan nicely.

As the covers of all Painkiller discs suggest, this music is about intimidation and fury. This 1994 live date is taken from the trioís tour of Japan, where apparently Mr. Zorn is considered a minor God (especially given his part-time residence there). The centerpiece of Talisman is the 32-minute reign of fire "Batrachophrenoboocosmomachia". The band unleashes an unrelenting attack of noise that is commanded by Laswellís thunderous pulse and the inventive drumming of Harris. With plenty of reverb to go around, the head nods as the pulse quickens. If you prefer the 20-second Naked City songs, hold on. This is a marathon.

For his part Zorn plays his all-too-familiar saxophone blasts, squeals and squawks. As opposed to his other bands of this time (News For Lulu, Naked City, and Spy vs. Spy) and later, Masada, Zorn was able to stretch out here with extended high-energy outpourings. This exorcism of sound isnít for the weak of heart; it is noisy for noise's sake.

Mark Corrot (courtesy of the All About Jazz website)


Although the relationship is largely forgotten today, early Brit punk was heavily infused with reggae. In John Lydon's memoirs No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, the former Sex Pistols frontman says that before the days of punk clubs and records, the only places they could go without getting a beating was the reggae halls, where an air of ganja and tolerance allowed skinny Londoners with green hair and safety pins through their cheeks to hang without hassle. Whatever the origins, The Clash covered Junior Murvin on their first album, and after the Pistols backfired, Johnny escaped to Jamaica before founding the bass-and-beat heavy PiL.

In the '80s, punk begat hardcore and No Wave, and while hardcore strayed, No Wave grew up into an aggressive jazz-based music. Reggae, however, seemed to have been a recessive gene.

To belabor the metaphor, on its own side of the family reggae begat dub and dub begat Bill Laswell, the prolific and sometimes heavy-handed producer with one of the fattest bass sounds around. Which brings us to Painkiller, John Zorn's band from the early '90s with Laswell on bass and the multi-faceted Mick Harris on drums. Harris was the original drummer for the massive British grindcore (the superfast aggressive punk-metal which sprung fully-formed from the forehead of hardcore when Korn were still baby kernels) group Napalm Death. Harris has also done dark ambient recordings with Laswell (most under the name "Lull") and beat-oriented studio constructions as Scorn.

By design or not, the trio did what no one else had done: brought the reggae (via dub) back to punk (via hardcore), somehow getting pigeonholed as jazz in the process (give a music critic a sax solo and you know what he'll do with it).

Painkiller was a phenomenon. Each of its members has done better things, but the trio was an unusual and egalitarian meeting of minds. They did two short records of fast punk blasts (Guts of a Virgin and Buried Secrets, both originally released on Earache) before incorporating Laswell's dub on Execution Ground (Subharmonic). All of those are collected on Painkiller: The Complete Studio Recordings 1991-1994 (Tzadik). A Japanese-only live recording with guitar terrorist Keiji Haino and a track on the Japanese compilation Samples (Maboroshi No Sekai) were not included for licensing reasons.

The Painkiller box is even less complete now, with this release of the last concert from their 1994 Japanese tour. The surprises here are few, and mostly come from Harris, with a strong solo and some splendidly horrid vocalizing. What is here, however, is strong playing. The record follows in the mold of their later extended pieces (three tracks here, ranging from 6 to 32 minutes), but retains the energy of the earlier releases, making this their most energetic and sympathetic record.

Painkiller was also one of the best vehicles for Zorn as an improviser. Masada and News for Lulu show him as a great jazz player, and Naked City displayed his versatility, but in Painkiller he could go anywhere and it would fit. He could jump from jazz to skronk to plain shrieking and the rhythm section always had his back. And more than anywhere else, they sound like a group here, and not just a project.

kg (courtesy of The Squid's Ear website)