J-S Bach
John Cage
John Zorn


Burt Bacharach and John Zorn

[1] It seems obvious to consider Zorn as someone who is quite difficult to stereotype. His flirtations with almost every type of music make it impossible to categorize or classify his work. And even when you do finally decide, for example, that his string quartet, 'Cat-o'-Nine-Tails', is definitely classical music, it will always be in the margins of this label, this category, this music world.
To classify Burt Bacharach seems to present less difficulty. Former king of mainstream popular music. Composer of middle-of-the road hits. Producer of easy listening tunes. He is at the heart of American pop music, confirming and continuing in the conventions of the Tin Pan Alley tradition. He can be viewed as a last bastion of this tradition of well-crafted songwriting. And the content of his songs signifies a world where nothing is likely to go seriously wrong. His work is a symbol of the uncomplicated part of the 1960's, the musical expression of  the 'American Dream', the musical perfection of the bourgeois ideal.

[2] At the same time, however, Bacharach is outside the tradition and conventions within which he is located. He profoundly altered the art of songwriting, expanding both the harmonic and melodic potentials of the popular song. He stretched and redefined the rules of the Tin Pan Alley paradigm that dictated the structures of pop songs. In the liner notes of the CD, Great Jewish Music: Burt Bacharach, Zorn writes of Bacharach, 'Bacharach's songs explode the expectations of what a popular song is supposed to be. Advanced harmonies and chord changes with unexpected turnarounds and modulations, unusual changing time signatures and rhythmic twists, often in uneven numbers of bars. But he makes it all sound so natural you can't get it out of your head or stop whistling it. Maddeningly complex, sometimes deceptively simple, these are more than just great pop songs: these are deep explorations of the materials of music and should be studied and treasured with as much care and diligence we accord any great works of art'.
Here, another Bacharach appears: a true subversive, a maverick who challenges the conventions of an entire generation of composers of popular music. At a time when the three or four chord pop tune is the rule, Bacharach employs more sophisticated chord progressions that are usually associated with jazz music. But his compositions have not so much to do with most conventional jazz standards, an A-A-B-A form in 4/4 with many II-V-I chord progressions. (Forgive this inaccuracy. This is not the place to discuss in detail the accounts and principles of jazz.) His melodies are often asymmetrical and do not fit into conventional 4/4 rhythms and harmonic forms. Rhythmically, his compositions move far beyond the 4/4 swing of jazz. (Perhaps the influence of Bacharach's teacher, Darius Milhaud, whose music stresses polyrhythms and unusual asymmetrical phrases, can still be heard here.) Extended harmonies, complex wanderings of melodies, and changes of meter all sounds like a formula for commercial suicide, yet Bacharach ruled the pop charts through the 1960's (cf. Heller). (Bacharach talks about his compositional technique as a 'horizontal' view of a melody in which the tune is allowed to stretch and breath naturally, unhindered by the strictures of chords and rhythms. The structure of the songs is generated by the arc of the melody. All other components are secondary to securing that natural flow.) These intricate compositions are about their own virtuosity. This virtuosity delights in complexity and craftsmanship, even more so because it is disguised within just another pop tune: the melodic, harmonic, and rhythmical turns do not seem forced, but sound very natural.
Bacharach can be considered a transitional character. He can be situated (But should we? What is the benefit, the surplus value?) in between the past of the Tin Pan Alley tradition and the forthcoming pop and rock culture. Neither inside nor outside either world. In between, that is, in the margin. In terms of both music and time.

[3] The cool perfection of Bacharach's songs is deceptive. Under a seemingly unwrinkled surface, subtle complications are hidden.
Let's consider two songs in a bit more detail. 'Alfie' sounds like a 32-bar song with four 8-bar phrases according to the conventional pattern A-A-B-A. However, the first A comprises ten bars, the second, eight, and the third, fourteen. Furthermore, the third A repeats only the first two bars of the other A's before it takes a whole new melodic and harmonic direction in the next five bars. To end the song, it returns to material already exposed in the first A, but with a deviating final cadence. Harmonically, 'Alfie' resembles some conventional jazz standards. It includes several II-V-I progressions; the chords that are used contain such extensions as a nine and a thirteen, and each phrase has some modulations. Yet many problems occur in 'the bridge', the B part. First of all, there is this strange transition to B minor where the A parts might be in C major, a modulation which is not very common in most jazz standards. But can we really assert that the bridge modulates to the key of B minor? These are the first four bars of the bridge:

| Bm7 / / / | Eb6/d / Am9/d / | Bm7 / / / | Cmaj7/d  / / / |.

Neither the Eb6, nor the Am9 nor the Cmaj7 fit in the key of B minor. Not in one single key! These are very uncommon chord changes not only for a popular song, but for a jazz tune as well. Is this the reason why so many jazz musicians who play Bacharach's tunes have great difficulties in finding the right approach? By improvising on the harmonic changes, they may try to tease out unsounded implications, yet Bacharach's song proves curiously unyielding. As a vehicle for jazz improvisation, this music seems too tightly constructed to permit much fruitful alteration. The song stubbornly resists the often used jazz patterns or scales.
Stan Getz contents himself with a virtual singing of 'Alfie' on sax in the album, What The World Needs Now. No improvisation on the harmonic schema. It is not necessary. His version already contains some explorations and variations on the musical material. During his Village Vanguard sessions - between the early 60's and mid 70's - pianist Bill Evans recorded 'Alfie' several times. Like Getz, he plays around with the melodic part using rhythmic variations, additions and embellishments. But as a master of the reharmonization of standard tunes, he added many chords. So, in one of his interpretations the first two bars,

| CaddD | Dm7 |,

change to

| C6/9 Bb9 Am7 A7b10 | Dm9 / / G(b)13 |.

Taking a closer look, however, these added harmonic progressions are merely ornamentations of a tune that comes pre-ornamented. The G chord in the second bar makes the transition from Dm to the Cmaj7 in the third bar a bit easier: a conventional II-V-I. In the same way, the A7b10 prepares for the appearance of Dm. Am7 can be regarded as a substitution chord for C. Finally, Bb9 leads chromatically from C to Am and is, at the same time, the tritonus of E7, the V of Am. So, in fact, Evans' 'Alfie' is not reharmonized. Although extended with additional chords, the harmonic foundational structure remains the same. His improvisations stay close to the melody and never extend over more than the first half of the form (the first two A's): approaching the bridge, he always returns to the theme.
I digressed. Let's go back to that 'other' 'Alfie', the melodic part of the composition. In many popular songs, the melody is directly derived from the chords. In 'Alfie', the melody is supported by the chords; the melody note often extends the chord (cf. for instance bars 8, 10, 21, and 33). Unfamiliar with jazz chords, the use of unresolved melodic cadences in 'Alfie' can leave the listener hanging. Furthermore, the melody constantly runs the risk of simply extending outwards in a series of increasingly far-flung spirals, losing the possibility of circling acceptably back. How far can it drift from the starting point or opening motif before the literate listener (performer, analyst) loses all hope that it is ever going to get back? The melody meanders so unpredictably that it is threatened with unbridgeable gaps and unexpected dissonances. But then Bacharach abruptly brings it home by using some type of deft shortcut or another (cf. for instance bars 10 and 25-6). This can be explained in part by Bacharach's remark that his work proceeds from the lyrics; 'It can take you to different places than you might have gone to left on your own. The lyric dictated that the melody needed to go there'. But in some sense, the lyrics hardly seem to matter to this music; are they anything more than an occasion to let Bacharach play with a very elaborate melodic and harmonic palette?

[4] 'Promises, Promises' (Play music). In fact, this song is about false promises, the mental pressure to keep your pledges to yourself. What does 'Promises, Promises' (Play music) musically promise? First of all, a 3/4 time. However, already in the first bar, the melody tries to break this promise. To be sure, the 3/4 time is maintained, but the six notes divided up in two groups of three notes ask rather for a 6/8 time. 'Things that I promised myself fell apart' the lyrics tell us. This kind of introspection can be recognized in the rhythmic part of the song. (Is the sentiment and meaning of the lyrics that are 'driving' the rhythmic development?) Meter and time dissociate in this first bar; they fall apart. Chances are very high that the second bar is indeed a 3/4. But one could read the third as a transposed copy (this seems like a paradox) of the first (again as a 6/8) while bars 5 and 6 are in 4/4 time. From the very start, the song has many difficulties in keeping its promise. No, not many difficulties; it cannot fulfill its pledge. 'Promises, promises, this is where those promises, promises end! I won't pretend ...'. They end immediately where they started. Here, different than that of 'Alfie' probably, it is difficult to blame the lyrics for the melodic development. It is not grammatically, nor poetically necessary to repeat 'promises' the second time (bar 3). And where the sentence ends, with the word 'end', the melodic phrase does not end. Only the melodic and rhythmic inventions of Bacharach are to blame here. I will not assert that the melody works against the lyrics. More carefully, more prudently put, it works outside of it.
The following bars are more quiet. The promise of time is redeemed. Still, the musical phrases have patterns and pulses of their own as a result of the frequently occurring syncopations. Sometimes it seems as if this part of the piece was written with a formal rhythm for the purpose of keeping the performers together.
I come to the end now. A feast of excess. Superabundance, almost dissipation, waste. Time changes every bar. Time signatures tumble over one another. The end cannot control itself. Bacharach cannot control himself. Maybe he cannot even control the end; it follows its own dynamics, beyond any control. Bacharach, however, makes excuses: 'I don't know they [time changes, MC] are there until I go to write it out'. Maybe Bacharach is right: maybe it is a bit boring trying to keep your promise, to promise a 3/4 time and to maintain it throughout the entire song. 'Promises, promises, take all the joy from life', the text goes on before it ends with: 'My kind of promises can lead to joy'. Whose kind of promises? Bacharach's? His kind of promise is to break his promise. His kind of promise is a non-promise. He promises a waltz, but there never is one. He promises a waltz in G major, but the second and third chords already do not fit this key. He breaks his promise already in the first bar, after only three notes. But it can lead to joy. We can see him smile, we can hear him laugh. 'I put them on the wrong track again'. Or, the melodic development has put us on the wrong track.
At other times, however, he doesn't fail to keep his promise because he didn't promise. There is no trace, for example, of the standard patterns A-A-B-A or verse-chorus-verse-chorus-interlude-verse-chorus. Of course, one can expect them in a musical song, a popular hit. One hopes for it. But they're not there. And he didn't promise: 'I'm all through with promises, promises ... I feel free'.
I'm all through with 'Promises, Promises' (Play music).

[5] His peers were first to recognize his genius. They tended to copy his arrangements almost note for note amounting to a sort of tribute. But would paying tribute be the same as imitation, as mimicry? Can it be different? Must it be different, perhaps? Derrida suggests another perspective in 'At This Very Moment In This Work Here I Am', a text which honors Levinas by being 'ungrateful', 'faulty', 'violent' to him. (I'm using the quotation marks to make clear that these words are not used not in the usual sense.) It has to be ungrateful in order to maintain the ethical structure that Levinas' texts puts to work, an ethical structure that generously goes from 'the same' to 'the other' without ever returning to the same. So, in his text Derrida is (has to be) loyal and disloyal at the same time, avoiding a return to the same, to Levinas (cf. Of the Critics.) In my opinion, Zorn works in much the same way as Derrida. Consider, for example, Spy Vs. Spy, Zorn's tribute to Ornette Coleman. Zorn isn't playing any cover versions; he doesn't imitate Coleman's music or his way of playing. This kind of gratitude would return the work to the same. In this sense, Zorn is disloyal. But he is loyal to the intense energy and real 'bluesiness' of this music. It shocked people. They didn't understand it. It was mere noise to them. So Zorn promised himself: 'If I'm going to do a record on Ornette, it's got to be a punch right in the face, it's got to shock people - the way his music did in the early '60s, because that was an important part of what that experience was, it was so different'. So I said 'It's got to go all the way. Let's bring the energy up more, the trash' (Cagne, p.523). Rather than paying respect by playing jazz 'under glass à la Wynton Marsalis' there is a reinvention of the tradition, a tradition 'that needs to be updated to keep it alive' (cf. Jones, p.151). Zorn honors Coleman, not by copying him, but by letting other voices (noises) be heard, in a way that Coleman did in the 1960's.
Updating it to keep it alive. That's what Zorn does with Bacharach's music, as well. How? Let's return to the liner notes for a moment. Zorn characterizes Bacharach as 'a questioner' with 'an original vision and sharp ear for detail'. 'Bacharach's songs explode the expectations of what a popular song is supposed to be ... Maddeningly complex, sometimes deceptively simple, these are more than just great pop songs: these are deep explorations of the materials of music and should be studied and treasured with as much care and diligence as we accord any great works of art'. Questioning musical conventions. Staking expectations. Examining the materials of music. These are the key phrases. And according to these standards, we could judge Great Jewish Music: Burt Bacharach. Updating it to keep it alive. How? Not by adding some musical aspects (ornaments) to the surface, but by removing them from the depth, by sifting out what seems unnecessary. Zorn's project lends credence to the notion that the way to recapture the past is to tear it apart. Not adding further decoration to the tunes, but stripping away textures and trappings to find the song's skeleton. To be faithful. To honor him. 'The intention, in all cases, has been to pay tribute to one of the world's greatest songwriters' (liner notes).
Not adding something to Bacharach's originals, but suppressing certain elements (sometimes cunningly, sometimes overtly) in order to make space for something new. Listen to Joey Baron's version of 'Alfie' (Play music). On drums. Solo. The melody becomes vaguely apparent. An empty outline. Toms, snare and cymbals mark the contours of this song. By playing the melody on drums, Baron is hiding the missing parts of this solo version, but at the same time, exhibiting the lost parts in absentia. 'Alfie' appears as a specter: blurred, not clearly recognizable. The opposition of present vs. absent is being undermined in this spectrality. It appears. But there is something that has disappeared as well, departed in the apparition, itself a re-apparition of the departed. And it appears with a slight alteration: The striking four semi-quavers, followed by a minim, do not appear on the first beat of the bar, but they do appear on the second. But what's it all about! 'Are we meant to take more than we give, or are we meant to be kind?' Is it a question of choosing, as the 'or' suggests? Baron took more than he gives back, but he is 'kind' to Bacharach. Not by imitating him, but by emphatically allowing the meandering of the melody to be heard. Rhythmically. 'I learned those songs according to how the phrases breathe', Baron says (Heller). But Baron does not seem to need the lungs in order to let his 'Alfie' breathe; he needs only the skeleton.

[6] The point is not about roots, but connections. Not arborescent systems, but rhizomes. How far from its point of origin, from its home, can a version (not a cover!) wander? How violently can the original be distorted, while remaining tantalizingly recognizable? (I call it 'violently distorted' because it is not a return to the same, not a repetition of the same.) One of the difficulties in dealing with Great Jewish Music: Burt Bacharach is that of grasping the furtive moment when a certain (border)line is crossed, and of grasping, too, the step with which it is crossed, the infringement that detaches the music from its 'original' milieu. Sometimes, charting the migration of the musical materials becomes part of the listening experience. A play between similarities and differences. A shibboleth between both pieces of music. A shibboleth that guarantees the transition from the one to the other, in all their difference, within the realm of the same (cf. Shibboleth, p.57).
Let's expand on the strangeness of being-at-home, being-away-from-home, being called away from the native country, or called away from home within the native country ... 'A House Is Not A Home' (Play music). Anthony Coleman (keyboards, piano, trombone, vocals), Doug Wieselman (clarinet) and Jim Pugliese (percussion, trumpet). I'm not going to discuss it in detail. I cannot explain in words what the music tells us so well. Please listen to it. Listen to how alienating the opening notes of the melody sound when badly played on the trumpet. Listen to the dissonant accompaniment on keyboards and clarinet. Listen to the second part of the main theme, stretched out like a rubber band by the piano in indistinct harmonic progressions. Listen how 'everything' converges again, resolves, on the tonic in bar 10, but how they extend this 'coming home' (by, for example, a ritenuto) before the trumpet gives the sign to leave again. Listen, finally, to 'the bridge' that is played in an entirely different tempo where a sweet clarinet repeats the first two bars (neither indicated, nor played in the original) accompanied by a discordant pedal point on the keyboard and dissonant minims by trombone and trumpet. At the very least, this translation is not a very common version of Bacharach's title song for the movie of the same name. When you know the 'original' version, this one can lead to a very discomforting experience. You certainly will not feel at home. It involves a transformation, if not a perversion, of the way this music is read 'in general' and perhaps by Bacharach himself. 'A house is not a home when there's no one there to hold you tight'. Detached from the author, the holder, there is no one to protect the musical text from dispossession, expropriation, despoilment, decontextualization. This must be taken into consideration. Once written down (recorded), a (musical) text is irrevocably detached from the intentions of the author (composer). He must relinquish his text, and he cannot be present when it is repeated or reread. As an inscription, as a mark, it can be iterated, cited, parodied, distorted, extracted from its context, confronted with other marks. Because of its own materiality, a mark cannot prevent connections that the author did not specifically intend (cf. (D)(R)econtextualization.)
This tune turns out to be a mobile home. Or in a mobile home, like chairs that can be moved from one house (context) to the next. Never at home once and for all, never for good embedded in one context, never forever protected against the possibilities of transformation and alteration.

[7] What is this Great Jewish Music: Burt Bacharach made by Zorn and his 'inner circle of noisemakers and deconstructionists'? (cf. Davis, p.4). Certainly, it is not a collection of cover versions. Neither is it a compilation of interpretations, at least not in the conventional meaning of interpretation. Bacharach's hits are not newly arranged, but rather disarranged. In commenting on Bacharach, in rereading him in a certain way, Zorn deconstructs the opposition between 'same' and 'other'. The accents are changed; surplus value is added. Sometimes his musical language is almost unrecognizable. The commentary becomes obscene. Playing the tunes in another way becomes playing other than Bacharach, other than 'proper'. Zorn does not relate to this music in a humble, respectful, or timid fashion. He negotiates with it to reveal the richness of the music. The music is provoked, violated, forced. It is stricken in its weak moments, in its incapacity to exclude everything it doesn't want to say: folding or stretching a melody, adding discordant voices or dissonant chords, playing a tune deliberately badly or letting undifferentiated noises enter, ignoring the structure of the compositions, playing only faintly recognizable fragments of it. Not at all like Stan Getz and Bill Evans who leave the tunes intact and only insert some melodic or harmonic variations. Not at all like 'Alfie' recorded by Everything But The Girl in 1988 where it is played just slightly more 'pop-ish'.
In 'Edmond Jabès and the Question of the Book' (Writing and Difference, p.64-78), Derrida examines two possible positions in relation to textuality and interpretation. He distinguishes between a rabbi and a poet. Derrida writes: 'But the shared necessity of exegesis, the interpretive imperative, is interpreted differently by the rabbi and the poet. The difference between the horizon of the original text and exegetic writing makes the difference between the rabbi and the poet irreducible' (Writing and Difference, p.67). Both of them have lost the 'original' text. Both of them interpret. However, the rabbi, the sage who possesses knowledge and power, strongly holds onto the horizon of an 'original' meaning. He tries to reconstruct the 'original' text. The poet, on the contrary, writes without hope of a complete restoration. He considers himself free. But there is only a minor difference between them. The poet is not in a position to abstract entirely from 'the horizon of the original text' either. So the difference is that the poet highlights and accepts the absence of an origin more so than the rabbi.
The analogy should be clear. Where Zorn feels himself free to withdraw from Bacharach's originals without losing track of them, the others stay much closer to the original texts, in either case harmonically. They are the rabbis, Zorn is the poet.
So let's continue with the poetry. Sometimes it is just playing the tunes otherwise, more modern, to make them applicable to the times by bringing the feeling and the essence of what Bacharach tried to accomplish with this music in a (post-)modern way. Playing with the notes and playing beyond the notes. Neither attached, nor detached. The melodies and harmonies are present, but alienated, transformed, distorted. Similar to 'Play music). Here Bacharach juxtaposes a country fiddler against a full string section, and he uses rhythms that evoke images of square dances and horse clops in order to capture a hint of the Old West. But right from its annunciatory fiddle line, this little cowboy symphony seems even further removed from any conceivable prairie than any other Hollywood Western theme. Elliott Sharp changes this soundtrack into a far more vicious piece of music. (Driven by the lyrics?) The disquieting character is reinforced by the drone of the C-tone throughout the entire piece. The use of a filter sweep causes the frequency spectrum of this 'C' to constantly change (although still at home, also on his way). The scene has changed from the Wild West of a couple of centuries ago to some desolate industrial area of a metropolis of the 1990's. The desperado, Liberty Valance, turns into a street criminal, the revolver into a machine gun (listen, for example, to the drum sections), the fiddle into an electric guitar. The fear of the people when he is nearby is converted into a squealing, whining guitar solo. Or is it the final gunfight in which Liberty Valance dies? It does not matter here. It's about playing the same tune and playing it entirely otherwise at the same time. The melodic themes are present, even played decently. But as for the rest, this version reminds us little of Gene Pitney singing Hal David's skilful synopsis of the John Ford movie.

[8] With shameless attention, the periphery (or is it the heart?) of Bacharach's musical corpus is explored. Following it with meticulous care, the musicians lend it occasionally unrecognizable echos. They take Bacharach into areas where he would perhaps dwell reluctantly. They make him part of an incrowd where he could feel compromised. How can this happen? The materiality and textuality of a (musical) text makes falling back on an immediate being present at the intentions of the author (composer) impossible. All that remains is the materiality of the text. This means that each text always runs the risk of being de- and recontextualized. The risk is inherent in the structure of a text as text. By its materiality, a text cannot prevent the possibility of connections (with other (re)marks) that the author didn't intend, that he does not necessarily like or approve. The departure from a 'proper' context is not an accidental possibility, but a constituent of a text as text.
'The approaches in this collection are as varied as the contributors who participated. Some will delight you, some will confuse you, some may even annoy you' (liner notes). Zorn probably addresses himself to the listener, but we cannot exclude the possibility that his writing is directed to Bacharach.