John Zorn

String Quartets

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This fine CD from Tzadik includes all four of John Zorn's works for string quartet. The first piece was composed and recorded in 1988, while the rest were recorded for the first time in 1999, specifically for this release. Zorn describes Cat O'Nine Tails as being "about the visual." Full of humor and musical games, this fun composition is subtitled "Tex Avery Meets the Marquis de Sade," and includes beauty, dynamism, strain, and melodrama. The Dead Man (1990) is the "sensual" piece that Zorn considers -- as he does Torture Garden -- a soundtrack to S&M scenes. Appropriately, the strings portray the pulling of taut wires and painful screeching throughout the piece's13 sections, each less than two minutes long. Memento Mori, from two years later, is the CD's "emotional" work, dedicated to Ikue Mori. Listening to the strings' wavering, plummeting, dipping, and plucking is a journey toward inner depths. With its 29-minute length and unique approach, Memento Mori requires special attention; Zorn refers to it as a "complexly hermetic work." The final string quartet is the "spiritual" piece, Kol Nidre (1996), related in name (and spirit) to the song of the same name that opens Yom Kippur services. The holy day is a time for forgiveness and reflection; according to the Torah, it is a time to afflict your soul. The composition is a weeper with a slow sway of bowed drones beneath unfurling meditative melodies. Maybe Zorn's genius isn't that he creates entirely unique music, but he certainly has an ear for great musical ideas, gleaned from his years of deep listening. And so, while these compositions may not be landmarks among string quartet works, they are exceedingly well done.

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