The Big Gundown (album)

Last updated
The Big Gundown
Studio album by
John Zorn
Released1986 (2000 - 15th Anniversary Edition)
Genre Avant-garde jazz [1]
Length49:27 (74:54 - 15th Anniversary Edition)
Label Nonesuch/Icon, Tzadik
Producer Yale Evelev
John Zorn chronology
The Big Gundown
15th Anniversary Special Edition
The Big Gundown 15th Anniversary.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
AllMusic Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar half.svg [3]
Penguin Guide to Jazz 👑 [4]
Spin (favorable) [5]
Spin Alternative Record Guide 9/10 [6]

The AllMusic review by Scott Yanow awarded the album 412 stars stating "There are certainly no dull moments on this often-riotous program". [7]

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]

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". [8]

Track listing

  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
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


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  1. 1 2 Cook, Richard; Brian Morton (2006) [1992]. "John Zorn". The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings . The Penguin Guide to Jazz (8th. ed.). New York: Penguin. pp.  1410. ISBN   0-14-102327-9.
  2. Tzadik catalogue
  3. Yanow, Scott. "Overview:The Big Gundown". AllMusic. Retrieved February 23, 2010.
  4. "Penguin Guide to Jazz: 4-Star Records in 8th Edition". Tom Hull . Retrieved 9 July 2020.
  5. "Spin-offs". Spin. 2 (12): 33. March 1987. ISSN   0886-3032.
  6. Spin Alternative Record Guide. Vintage Books. 1995. p. 450.
  7. Yanow, S. [ AllMusic Review] accessed July 22, 2011
  8. Futterman, S., "Records: The Big Gundown", Rolling Stone , Issue 498, April 23, 1987, pp 152