John Zorn

FilmWorks XIV: Hiding and Seeking

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The latest volume in John Zorn's provocative and prolific series of soundtrack collections belongs to one film, the very instructive and moving documentary Hiding and Seeking by Menachem Daum and Oren Rudavsky. The film, a follow-up to the duo's A Life Apart: Hasidism in America, is a post-Holocaust picture that acts as a mirror image to its predecessor. Whereas the former film tried to humanize Hasidic Jews for outsiders, this film seeks to humanize outsiders to the Haredim. Centering on a trip to Poland by the family (Daum, his wife Rivka, and his two sons, who are ultra-orthodox Yeshiva students in Israel) to uncover family history and to seek out a Polish family that sheltered Rivka's father during WWII, the film is a dialogue back and forth about the insularity of the Haradem's world that shuns outsiders, humanism, and the kind of dialogue that can take place when even the notion of community is addressed. Zorn's score is one of his most beautiful and accessible. Written for acoustic guitar (Marc Ribot), vibraphone (Kenny Wollesen), percussion (Cyro Baptista), bass (Trevor Dunn), and voice (Ganda Suthivarakom), the 12 titles are all centered around a kind of Yiddish form of exotica. While traditional folk forms are used freely, the sense of lush and textured dynamics employed by Martin Denny and the jazzed-out worldview of Gabor Szabo are obvious inspirations. But Zorn's use of intricate melodies and his love of the wry, the subtle, and the perverse are also at work here in spades. Fans of his more outside work that challenges notions of Western harmonics and resultant melodic invention will be -- unless they are open-minded about Zorn's obvious love for conventional harmony and chromaticism -- very disappointed. This is an album one has to know absolutely nothing about to be intoxicated by. Its heady mix of silky nylon-string guitar work by Ribot, the sultry ethereal vocals by Ms. Suthivarakom that are strategically and soothingly placed throughout the work, and the completely seductive percussion engagement by Baptista make for a mix as heady as fine wine and as pleasantly overwhelming as fine perfume. This work is beyond folk forms, beyond jazz, and beyond the kitschy sense of humor Zorn often employs (even more so than The Gift), resulting in a work that is profound, moving, and full of sensual delight.

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