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John Zorn: Femina

Mark Corroto By

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John Zorn returns to his famous "file card" technique of composing with Femina, a disc he wrote and conducts with an all-woman lineup, dedicated to women in the arts. Among those honored here are Meredith Monk, Simone de Beauvoir, Frida Kahlo, Madame Blavatsky, Isadora Duncan, Hélène Cixous, Gertrude Stein, Abe Sada, Sylvia Plath, Louise Bourgeois, Margaret Mead, Loie Fuller, Dorothy Parker, Yoko Ono and the moon goddess En Hedu'Anna.

Zorn first released Spillane (Elektra, 1988), a tribute to detective pulp fiction writer Mickey Spillane, composed with his technique of writing sound blocks on note cards that could be sorted and resorted into a musical score. These file cards were arranged with themes and various musicians in mind. Here, the theme is carried out by a cast of stellar downtown musicians and longtime Zorn collaborators.

Written in four parts, the disc opens with Laurie Anderson's narrative cutting to pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, played over Ikue Mori's electronic doodles. The next card is some bang-up percussion from Shayna Dunkelman that washes out into Carol Emanuel, Jennifer Choi, and Okkyung Lee's strings. Zorn's score reveals his choice to place certain sound blocks next to another. Sometimes the transitions are abrupt, noisy, and feverish, other sections meld into gently flowing sequences. As with the original Spillane and his Naked City band, the astonishing revelation is that this music and its segues are not post-production studio creations, but live performance by these talented artists.

Like many other works by Zorn, sheer beauty is often juxtaposed against noise, and scary themes jostle the passages of tranquility. But, then, fans of his music must always expect his music to abruptly awaken.

Although the disc is a mere 37 minutes in length, Tzadik Records makes a strong argument for the CD over download, with exceptional packaging that includes a 52-page booklet of Kiki Smith's photography.


Track Listing: Femina-part one; Femina-part two; Femina-part three; Femina-end titles.

Personnel: Jennifer Choi: violin; Okkyung Lee: cello; Carol Emanuel: harp; Sylvie Courvoisier: piano; Shayna Dunkelman: percussion; Ikue Mori: electronics; Laurie Anderson: opening narration.

Title: Femina | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Tzadik


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