John Zorn: Filmworks XX: Sholem Aleichem

Warren Allen By

Sign in to view read count
John Zorn: Filmworks XX: Sholem Aleichem Composer John Zorn continues his remarkably productive 2008 (at least seven releases to his name so far) with Volume XX of his Filmworks series. Zorn assembled these pieces for the soundtrack to a documentary about Sholem Aleichem, the 19th century Jewish author whose character Tevye inspired Fiddler on the Roof.

In the liner notes, Zorn writes that he initially had misgivings that the score might just turn into traditional klezmer music. But director Joe Dorman reassured him that the film needed a sound that spoke as much to the New World as to the Old, and even forbidding the use of clarinet.

The music emphasizes complex arrangements full of head-bobbing polyrhythms. To accomplish this, Zorn taps familiar faces with Carol Emanuel on harp and Rob Burger on accordion joining the Masada String Trio. The result is an Eastern European Jewish sound that touches on an almost Latin groove, played by a tremendously talented modern chamber group.

The album opens with the upbeat "Shalom, Sholem!" Accordion, harp, and distinctly fiddler-sounding strings take turns passing the lead line. The initially menacing "Beyond the Pale" finds itself propelled along by Cohen's bass and then buoyed by Emanuel's graceful glissandi.

Whether it has been with his original Masada quartet or newer projects like Electric Masada or the String Trio, Zorn has always emphasized the conversational aspect of Jewish music. The solos here are certainly brief, with no track reaching five minutes, but there's a group dynamic as the other players compliment soloists Burger, Mark Feldman and Erik Friedlander during "Jewish Revolutionaries."

"Mekubolim" opens with humming strings and accordion beneath a harp line out of fairy tales, which gives way to Friedlander's cello, Feldman's violin, and eventually Burger on accordion as the other players ebb and swell beneath. A beautiful restatement of the theme with violin and harp unison; pushed from beneath by accordion and bowed bass, makes this a real highlight.

It all adds up to music that can evoke a wide range of subtle emotions. There is a streak of black humor running through the album that is meant to parallel the tone of Aleichem's writing. Whether in song titles such as "Lucky Me, I'm an Orphan!," the grooving pizzicato strings of "Mamme Loshen," or Feldman's Tango-style violin scratches on "Portable Homeland," it is clear that this is playful music.

But the pick of the album may be the final piece, "Talking Through Oblivion," which moves off Burger's potent accordion playing, a great Feldman solo, and Friedlander's most fiery performance on the album. It's the kind of statement that should make people want to see how else Zorn can bring this special group together. And it also demonstrates once again that Zorn, no matter what he's done before, continues to turn genre and expectation on their heads.

Track Listing: Shalom, Sholem!; Luminous Visions; Mamme Loshen; Beyond The Pale; Mekubolim; Portable Homeland; Wandering Star; Jewish Revolutionaries; Shtetls; Lucky Me, I'm An Orphan!; Nicht Gefahrlich; Talking Through Oblivion.

Personnel: Carol Emanuel: harp; Rob Burger: accordion; Mark Feldman: violin; Erik Friedlander: cello; Greg Cohen: bass.

Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Tzadik | Style: Fringes of Jazz


More Articles

Read Rags And Roots CD/LP/Track Review Rags And Roots
by James Nadal
Published: April 25, 2017
Read Tangled CD/LP/Track Review Tangled
by Jack Bowers
Published: April 25, 2017
Read Is It Me...? CD/LP/Track Review Is It Me...?
by Edward Blanco
Published: April 25, 2017
Read Live CD/LP/Track Review Live
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: April 25, 2017
Read 14.11.2016 CD/LP/Track Review 14.11.2016
by Nicola Negri
Published: April 25, 2017
Read Malnoia CD/LP/Track Review Malnoia
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: April 24, 2017
Read "The Roc" CD/LP/Track Review The Roc
by Roger Farbey
Published: January 28, 2017
Read "Live in Japan" CD/LP/Track Review Live in Japan
by Mark Sullivan
Published: August 5, 2016
Read "Super Petite" CD/LP/Track Review Super Petite
by Glenn Astarita
Published: July 17, 2016
Read "Interesting" CD/LP/Track Review Interesting
by John Eyles
Published: June 28, 2016
Read "Mac Gollehon & The Hispanic Mechanics" CD/LP/Track Review Mac Gollehon & The Hispanic Mechanics
by Paul Naser
Published: May 2, 2016
Read "Obfusc/ation" CD/LP/Track Review Obfusc/ation
by Doug Collette
Published: April 18, 2017

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus


Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!