John Zorn: Femina (2010)
In keeping with both title and concept, all six Zorn-pawns are female: Jennifer Choi (violin), Okkyung Lee (cello), Carol Emanuel (harp), Sylvie Courvoisier (piano), Shayna Dunkelman (percussion) and Ikue Mori (electronics). Laurie Anderson makes a brief appearance, providing a short opening narration. The lavish disc packaging is suitably female (whatever that is) and includes a substantial booklet of Kiki Smith's images, although many of these veer towards bland postcard art.
In describing the music, it's impossible to avoid visions of the filmic, as Zorn's card-prompts cause a sequence of episodic and contrasting incidents to parade themselves. The suite is divided into four parts, the first three hovering around 10 minutes apiece while the fourth is a mere three, concluding with a vaguely Japanese melody. The presence of so many chamber instruments leads to an unavoidably diaphanous nature, but Mori's fierce laptop emissions act as a frequent disruptor. In typically shape-changing fashion, Zorn stage-manages a multiple personality mashup, alternating silken abstraction with cluttered aggression. Presumably, this was all recorded in real-time, with no overdubs. That would be a more noticeable achievement on the live stage, but is particularly impressive in view of some of the percussive density and suddenly compacted laptop activities.
A pulsating chamber ensemble regularity develops, is banished several times, returning, broken asunder by blurts of electro-barrage. Tonally-singing cello and violin fly over cantering piano and percussion, then a rending, hyper-martial ritual explodes into ceremonial angst. Mori is going beyond her accustomed sonically processed abstraction, featuring actual recognizably real-world sounds. Transitions are frequently made with microscopic detail and Emanuel's harp is often the most distinctive sonic ingredient, along with Mori's samples.
Femina is a procession of beguilingly atmospheric events, less savagely jump-cutting than most of Zorn's previous card-pieces. It's dramatic, but not always linear. This is its strength.
Track Listing: Femina.
Personnel: Jennifer Choi: violin; Okkyung Lee: cello; Carol Emanuel: harp; Sylvie Courvoisier: piano; Shayna Dunkelman: percussion; Ikue Mori: electronics; Laurie Anderson: opening narration.
Record Label: Tzadik
Style: Fringes of Jazz