Music: Once Upon a Time in America

Eight releases explore a land from art rock to Victor Herbert

Who says modern music has to be unpleasant? As the 20th century winds down, the joyous, freewheeling eclecticism that has long marked American music is flourishing more strongly than ever. Some challenging releases prove the point:

PETER GORDON: Innocent (CBS). JOHN ZORN: The Big Gundown: John Zorn Plays the Music of Ennio Morricone (Nonesuch/Icon). Not for the squeamish -- or at least not for those who think serious music is something best carried on quietly by consenting adults in the privacy of a concert hall. Gordon, 35, and Zorn, 33, are both members of Manhattan's explosive avant-garde art-rock scene, reveling in...

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