Petra Haden sings the Zorn/Harris Songbook

feat. the Julian Lage Trio

(Tzadik, 2020)


text: Robin Boer


In 2012, Zorn teamed up with Jesse Harris (producer, songwriter, guitarist who worked with Norah Jones, Melody Gardot, Madeleine Peroux, Nikki Yanofsky and Lizz Wright) who wrote lyrics to the melodies of some Zorn compositions. The Song Project was born, and during a concert marathon because of Zorn's 60th birthday, the music was performed with (back then) Mike Patton, Sofia Rei and Harris himself on vocals.


Petra Haden, - daughter of the late composer/bass player Charlie Haden - who collaborated with bands like The Decemberists, Sun O))), Beck, Foo Fighters and Green Day, met Harris during a performance with the band The Curators (with befriended guitarist Anthony Wilson) and one of the compositions was 'Song of Innocence' by John Zorn. A few years later, in 2017, Harris was offered a residency at Zorn's famous underground club 'The Stone' and Petra was invited to sing some of the songs Zorn and Harris wrote together, with the addition of the trio of guitarist Julian Lage (who collaborates with Zorn regularly).

About a year later, on November 5th, 2018, we were witness of this special formation: the Julian Lage Trio (Jorge Roeder – bass and Kenny Wollesen – drums/percussion) and Petra Haden performing a bunch of Zorn pieces, translated to songs, under the name of 'Songs for Petra.' Harris featured on backing vocals and guitar. A ProgJazz review of the marathon, including this particular concert can be read here .


Zorn advised all musicians to get even more familiar and comfortable with the material, so that is one of the reasons it took a while to enjoy these wonderful songs on record. Now, it's finally here. Thirteen songs from pieces that find their origin on albums like 'At the Gates of Paradise', 'Alhambra Love Songs' and 'Virtue.'

A lot of Zorn's material is very complicated when it comes to time signatures, shifts and rich intervals, so writing lyrics for that was quite a challenge for Harris sometimes. However, it appears he did great and it turns out that the music became surprisingly accessible. The band recorded in Harris' appartment, all in separate rooms, and, considering Hadens' great taste for good compositions and her a capella versions of pieces from King Crimson, Phil Collins, The Beach Boys and Paul McCartney, we aren't surprised to find out in the liner notes that she finished all vocals in one eight-hour day and nothing has been adjusted artificially. When listening to some very difficult melodies ('Nothing', 'Listen') this is truly impressive. Apart from that, she has an absolutely beautiful voice.

The Band

The band itself sounds absolutely perfect, as you can expect under Zorn's supervision. Lage is an extraordinairy guitar player, nailing all his parts in one take for this album. Jorge Roeder's bass is a caress for the ear. Kenny Wollesen needs little introduction. He played on many Zorn projects already, and just like (the other) drummer Joey Baron he is a very regular collaborator.

Where a lot of Zorn's recordings are highly extreme and unusual in the way his compositions are performed, this is an interesting take on his rich catalogue and the songs are so good, you want to play this cd over and over again.