The year 2008 has been an amazingly busy one for John Zorn. This is the third of four additions to his ever growing Film Works series; he also recorded the utterly beautiful Dreamers this year, and his collection of Masada compositions, Book of Angels, has grown to ten volumes with the release of Lucifer. Film Works, Vol. 21 combines two very different scores for a pair of films that are as different from one another as night and day, and are played by two different ensembles. The first seven cues make up the score to famed fetish film director Maria Beatty's Belle de Nature. Beatty and Zorn have worked together before, on two other erotic films, Elegant Spanking, which was documented on Film Works, Vol. 4, and The Black Glove (considered her finest picture), documented on Film Works, Vol. 6. Beatty's films focus on the edges of desire and lesbian love. The band on this set includes all Zorn veterans: guitarist Marc Ribot, harpist Carol Emanuel, and bassist extraordinaire Shanir Blumenkranz. This small chamber ensemble makes these first seven cues as riveting as they are beautiful. The sheer exotic nature of these strings all played together in woven layers of counterpoint and rhythmic and melodic invention creates a soundscape that sounds much more lush than it actually is. While each cue is a truly expansive small journey in its own right, when taken together they have the capacity to transport the listener to another place. That said, most notable is "Orties Cuisantes," on which Ribot simply cuts loose on the electric guitar with his requisite taste and aggressive bite and timing, made even more powerful by the interlocking grooves played by Emanuel and Blumenkranz in support.
The second score in this set belongs to a documentary project by director Oeke Hoogendijk, about the renovation of the famed Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, simply titled The New Rijksmuseum. The ensemble Zorn assembled for this score features percussionist Cyro Baptista, percussionist and vibraphonist Kenny Wollesen, and pianist Uri Caine (who is new to theZorn film music crew), playing not only piano but harpsichord. What is perhaps most perverse when hearing this wonderfully strange score is that the filmmakers originally wanted to license music from one of Zorn's Masada String Trio recordings for the soundtrack. In his perverse way, Zorn sold them on something entirely new instead. The harpsichord evokes Bach -- one of the cues, "Restoration," was even modeled on a Bach composition. Yet, while there are many classical overtones in these pieces -- such as the seeming variation on Scarlatti in "Conservation" -- the fabric created by specially made glass percussion instruments by Baptista and Wollesen's vibes takes the music into completely different realms. Jazz and Latin percussion weave together on "Rendering," where the harpsichord is utilized as a groove instrument to accompany Baptista's rhythms as the vibes become the central focus of the work. The truly strange thing about Vol. 21 is how well these seemingly disparate scores work as a whole. As an album it becomes a wondrous bit of 21st century exotica that is musically savvy and hip. This is an excellent addition to the series.