Active primarily in New York City from 1988 to 1993, Naked City was initiated by Zorn as a "composition workshop" to test the limits of composition (and improvisation) in a traditional Rock band lineup.
In Naked City's characteristic early style, songs were often performed at astonishingly fast tempos, drawing on Thrash Metal and Hardcore Punk's emphasis on extreme speed. Many songs were quite brief, and typically switched musical genres every few measures. One critic described the band's music as "jump-cutting micro-collages of Hardcore, Country, Sleazy Jazz, covers of John Barry and Ornette Coleman, brief abstract tussles — a whole city crammed into two or three minute bursts". This fast-change tendency was inspired in part by Carl Stalling — a John Zorn favorite — who wrote music for many Warner Brothers cartoons, that featured frequent shifts in tempo, theme and style.
Naked City's eponymous first album was distributed by Nonesuch Records and featured a Weegee photograph of a dead gangster on its cover, along with macabre illustrations by Maruo Suehiro. There was disagreement between John Zorn and the label over cover art on subsequent albums. Zorn wanted to use explicit S&M pictures, images from 19th century medical archives, and execution photographs, most notoriously of a Leng Tch'e victim; Nonesuch refused. Zorn ended his relationship with the label, releasing subsequent Naked City albums on Shimmy Disc and his own Avant and Tzadik labels.
On later releases, the band varied their stylistic approach and repertoire to include pieces from modern classical composers such as Alexander Scriabin, Claude Debussy, Charles Ives, and Olivier Messiaen, whose works are featured on the album Grand Guignol. Leng T'che featured a single Heavy Metal music piece, over 31 minutes in length. Torture Garden was made up of several "Hardcore miniatures", and Absinthe was Ambient and Noize textures.
Zorn discontinued Naked City after Absinthe when he felt "... the need to write music for other ensembles, in other contexts, with new ideas". A brief reunion occurred in 2003 for a few shows at European Jazz festivals.
The group covered numerous film soundtrack cuts, including work by Georges Delerue. Heretic was intended as the soundtrack for a film starring Karen Finley.
Members Name Check
- John Zorn - alto saxophone
- Bill Frisell - electric guitar
- Fred Frith - bass guitar
- Wayne Horvitz - keyboards
- Joey Baron - drums
- Yamatsuka Eye - vocals (1988–1992, 1993)
Mike Patton - vocals (1991 and 2003)
1) Naked City (1990)
2) Torture Garden (1990)
3) Grand Guignol (1992)
4) Heretic (1992)
5) Leng Tch'e (1992)
6) Radio (1993)
7) Absinthe (1993)
8) Black Box (1996)
(contains the albums Torture Garden and Leng Tch'e, originally released only in Japan)
9) Naked City Live, Vol. 1: The Knitting Factory 1989 (2002)
10) Naked City: The Complete Studio Recordings (Box Set) (2005)