The Big Gundown (album)

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The Big Gundown
Studio album by
John Zorn
Released1985 (2000 - 15th Anniversary Edition)
GenreAvant-garde jazz[1]
Length49:27 (74:54 - 15th Anniversary Edition)
LabelNonesuch/Icon, Tzadik
ProducerYale Evelev
John Zorn chronology
The Big Gundown
15th Anniversary Special Edition
The Big Gundown (John Zorn album, 15th anniversary edition - cover art).jpg

The Big Gundown is an album by American composer and saxophonist/multi-instrumentalist John Zorn. It comprises radically reworked covers of tracks by the Italian film composer Ennio Morricone.

The album is named after a 1966 spaghetti western of the same name, directed by Sergio Sollima, starring Lee Van Cleef, and scored by Morricone. The album was first released in 1985 on the Nonesuch/Icon label. In 2000 a remastered 15th Anniversary Edition with additional tracks was released on CD on Zorn's Tzadik Records label.[2]

In 1985 Zorn had been working in New York City's experimental music scene for almost a decade (the album was originally to be called "Once Upon a Time in the Lower East Side"), but The Big Gundown launched him to wider prominence. In the notes for the 2000 reissued CD, Zorn describes The Big Gundown as representing a creative breakthrough as well for being the first time he worked extensively with multi-track recording, overdubbing and ornate orchestration. Though his main instrument is alto sax, Zorn did not play on most tracks, adding only a few touches of piano, game calls, harpsichord or musical saw.


Professional ratings
Review scores
Allmusic4.5/5 stars[3]
Guy's Music Review10/10 stars[5]

The Allmusic review by Scott Yanow awarded the album 4½ stars stating "There are certainly no dull moments on this often-riotous program".[6]

The Penguin Guide to Jazz selected this album as part of its suggested "Core Collection" and awarded it a "crown", calling it "utterly remarkable in every way and one of the essential records of the '80s".[1]

Guy Peters stated "Genre-bending and ambitious, John Zorn’s conceptual tribute to the film works of Ennio Morricone might very well be one of the most adventurous albums of its era. Indeed, The Big Gundown can be seen as one of the most successful proponents of the prevailing deconstructionist approach to music and literature... not only one hell of a tribute, but also quite a statement, one that would characterize Zorn’s entire career... The Big Gundown is sometimes hard to get into, but frequently it’s a hilarious trip through musical plurality materialized, and while that may sound pretentious, the most important that I wanted to convey is that it’s often stunningly creative, and always captivating".[5]

The Rolling Stone review by Steve Futterman was less enthusiastic, and Futterman stated, "Despite high-spirited contributions from a first rate cast, Zorn's tentative and analytical remakes tend to bleed Morricone's high drama and joyous kitschiness dry".[7]

Track listing[edit]

  1. "The Big Gundown" - 7:26
  2. "Peur sur la Ville" - 4:16
  3. "Poverty (Once Upon a Time in America)" - 3:49
  4. "Milano Odea" - 3:02
  5. "Erotico (The Burglars)" - 4:27
  6. "Battle of Algiers" - 3:50
  7. "Giu la Testa (Duck You Sucker!)" - 6:06
  8. "Metamorfosi (La Classe Operaia Va In Paradiso)" - 4:37
  9. "Tre nel 5000" - 4:37
  10. "Once Upon a Time in the West" - 8:44
  • The album was re-released and remastered in 2000, with six newly recorded tracks:
11. "The Sicilian Clan" - 3:20
12. "Macchie Solari" - 3:29
13. "The Ballad of Hank McCain" - 5:27
14. "Svegliatti & Uccidi" 3:03
15. "Chi Mai" - 3:06
16. "The Ballad of Hank McCain (instrumental)" - 5:28
All compositions by Ennio Morricone except "Tre nel 5000" by John Zorn



  1. ^ a b Cook, Richard; Brian Morton (2006) [1992]. "John Zorn". The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings. The Penguin Guide to Jazz (8th. ed.). New York: Penguin. p. 1410. ISBN 0-14-102327-9.
  2. ^ Tzadik catalogue
  3. ^ Yanow, Scott. "Overview:The Big Gundown". Allmusic. Retrieved February 23, 2010.
  4. ^ "Spin-offs". Spin. 2 (12): 33. March 1987. ISSN 0886-3032.
  5. ^ a b Peters, G. [ Guy's Music Review], accessed October 23, 2013
  6. ^ Yanow, S. [ Allmusic Review] accessed July 22, 2011
  7. ^ Futterman, S., "Records: The Big Gundown", Rolling Stone, Issue 498, April 23, 1987, pp 152

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