John Zorn

Mysterium

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Three chamber works composed in 2004 are featured on John Zorn's Mysterium, each revealing a different aspect of his famously eclectic sensibility and restless creativity. Anyone who came of age during the peak years of the avant-garde will feel pangs of nostalgia listening to Orphée, a collage-like piece ostensibly derived from the piquant sounds of Boulez, Messiaen, and Carter, but softened somewhat by references to Debussy's Sonate en trio and possibly even to some of the exotic works of Takemitsu or Hovhaness. Such free association and layering of contrasting material is certainly expected in Zorn's kaleidoscopic music, but rarely is the collective effect so mild and charmingly poetic. The wordless Frammenti del Sappho for five women's voices is a curious mixture of minimalist repetition and Renaissance textures, and sounds rather like a collaboration between Don Carlo Gesualdo and Philip Glass, though with little of either composer's edginess. "One of the most breathtakingly beautiful pieces in my catalog," Frammenti is highly regarded by Zorn, though others may feel this is one of his least-compelling compositions, due to its modal uniformity, mechanical voicing, and atypically subdued mood. In stark contrast, the erratic, Webern-inspired Walpurgisnacht for string trio is the exact opposite in its harsh dissonances, angular lines, and aphoristic brevity; Zorn's aggressive side is impossible to miss here. This album boasts sterling performances by 16 outstanding artists, and Tzadik's production values are high; the sound in all three works is clear, vibrant, and natural.

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