JOHN ZORN (b.1953): Memento mori, Cat O’Nine Tails, The Dead Man, Kol Nidre.

Catalogue Number: 03U064

Label: Atma

Reference: ACD2 2774

Format: CD

Price: $16.98

Description: Basically, this is Zorn doing what he does, in the string quartet medium. Experimental and improvisatory, shocking and full of non sequiturs and references to the occult and algolagnia, these compositions are typical of the composer, if one can speak of such a thing in the case of one who has explored so many musical avenues. Cat o' nine tails is a collage of small, unrelated fragments, a kind of cut-up text assembled from cartoon strip panels. There are plenty of screeching extended techniques and noise textures, but also fleeting references to traditional quartet music and to saccharine popular styles. Much the same thing can be heard in The Dead Man, which Zorn has suggested is like the "sound track of a sordid and sadomasochistic film set in a gloomy New York or Tokyo basement." The extent to which this is to be taken seriously is open to doubt, and depending on one's taste in sordid and sadomasochistic films, much of what you hear here might seem as questionably relevant as the music that Bruno Maderna wrote for the 1968 giallo movie 'Death Laid an Egg'. Memento Mori (1992) is the most extended, by far the most emotionally charged, and frankly most interesting work here. Whereas the earlier quartets are not free of the suspicion that they may be shocking for its own sake, as much conceptual art as musical, in this piece the microtones, extended effects and juxtaposition of wild contrasts seems to be at the service of a narrative, perhaps with some autobiographical intent. The work is intense and unremittingly dark, with pivotal silences and one extended dissonant tonal chord forming a kind of emotional fulcrum. Kol Nidre stands in complete contrast to the other quartets; it has something of the mood of the Yom Kippur chant, and largely avoids dissonance and eschews shock tactics altogether. Not the first time Zorn has explored his Jewish heritage, Kol Nidre sounds like a genuine spiritual meditation of considerable depth. Quatuor Molinari.


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