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John Zorn - Hen to Pan CD (album) cover


John Zorn



2.96 | 4 ratings

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3 stars Another of John Zorn's classical chamber exercises - the real deal, not the ersatz Chamber Rock of bands like Univers Zéro (who I love, but let's face it: the music of UZ is kid stuff next to a composer of Zorn's range and education). He's been down this road before, of course: writing difficult music for small string ensembles, often easier to appreciate than to enjoy. But what elevates this disc above his many other classical detours is the urgency of the music, thanks in part to the addition of a frantic drummer, and some equally percussive piano.

The album's bookend versions of "Ouroboros" were arranged for twin cellos and percussion, all playing in absolutely furious agitation: not Rock or Fusion, but close enough to challenge the expectations of visitors to this site. (A separate, almost identical duo rendition, minus the drums, is also featured.)

"Occam's Razor", subtitled "Canons, Interludes and Fantasies for Cello and Piano", is equally dynamic, again highlighting the demonic virtuosity of cellist Jay Campbell, matched to the sympathetic brilliance of Stephen Gosling on the keyboard. Rounding out the program is "The Aristos (Ten Metaphysical Ambiguities for Violin, Cello and Piano)", a longer piece following the same obscure formula, with interesting refinements, although I have to wonder how tongue-in-cheek that fanciful sub-heading is.

The album was strong enough to earn a spot on the New York Times list of the Best Classical Music Recordings of 2015, not exactly a high recommendation for doctrinaire Progheads, but a convincing endorsement of Zorn's high(brow) standing in a much larger musical context. This effort isn't aimed at casual bystanders or the musically faint of heart, but students of edgy avant-garde notation will find much to excite them here.

Neu!mann | 3/5 |


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