John Zorn

FilmWorks XXV: City of Slaughter/Schmatta/Beyond the Infinite

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According to the liner notes included in the 25th volume of John Zorn's FilmWorks series, City of Slaughter/Schmatta/Beyond the Infinite may be the last. There are a number of reasons for this, but the main one is that the composer used to write scores for the pleasure of working on certain kinds of music "on someone else's dime." But Zorn is so prolific, working on numerous carefully conceived projects and collaborations, he doesn't need -- or perhaps want -- the distraction, and apparently doesn't need the money. None of the three works here are soundtracks for a particular "film" in the proper sense of the word, and all are works for solo piano. City of Slaughter finds Zorn working once again with director Oren Rudavsky. The score is for a video installation of thematic black-and-white documentary film footage that Rudavsky curated for the Museum of Jewish History and Tolerance Center in Moscow -- Russia's only Jewish museum. Rudavsky divided the films into topical and historical categories. Zorn recruited young Israeli jazz pianist Omri Mor -- who will also be recording a forthcoming Book of Angels project with the composer. These pieces make up the first 14 cues. They are by turns mysterious and flowing, balanced between jazz and Jewish traditional and mystical music. Mor's performance is breathtaking in its range, clarity, focus, sensitivity of touch, and textual perception. The next four cues are basically an anomaly: they feature Zorn recording as he composes four cues for Marc Levin's Schmatta, a documentary on the garment center. One can hear various themes of his that have been used in other places at work here, from the music played by the composer's Dreamers projects, his exploration of various timbral and color notions used in Book of Angels and his mystical compositions, etc.; he often makes spontaneous decisions as to where to go with the music that's already under his fingers. Beyond the Infinite is a knotty, entrancing, mystical piece played by Rob Burger. It is the original version of the work recorded by a quartet on Goddess: Music for the Ancient of Days. From a listener's standpoint, it might have been nice to have Burger's performance follow Mor's and to include Zorn's own improvisational compositions at the end as bonus cuts. But it's a very small complaint. This is a beautiful recording by virtually any standard.

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