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John Zorn: Femina


Release Date: 10/27/2009 
Label:  Tzadik   Catalog #: 7377   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  John Zorn
Performer:  Carol EmanuelIkue MoriJennifer ChoiSylvie Courvoisier,   ... 
Conductor:  John Zorn
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



ZORN Femina Jennifer Choi (vn); Okkyung Zee (vc); Carol Emanuel (hp); Sylvie Courvoisier (pn); Shayna Dunkelman (perc); Ikue Mori (electronics); Laurie Anderson (nar) TZADIK 7377 (35:26)


John Zorn has here pulled together an all-female ensemble to perform his tribute to women. From the materials given in the disc’s package (more on that in a moment), it’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on at first, as one only (1) discovers who the players are, and (2) finds a long list of female notables, ranging from Read more Simone de Beauvoir to Meredith Monk, with Sappho, Joan of Arc, Jane Austen, and about another 40 in between. There’s also a gorgeous booklet of images of sculptures by Kiki Smith, one of the most highly visible feminist artists, some of which appear to be candid views of her studio, others more formal shots of her work, or just images that attract her (her art has always been concerned with the body and its sometimes disturbing manifestations of sexuality and mortality). So the disc should be considered as part of a larger package.


I only found out more about the music by trawling for information online. The piece is another in the composer’s file-card works, where he directs an ensemble from one creative moment to another with visual cues he provides. (Some of his most influential pieces, like Spillane , follow this model). As is often the case with the composer, there’s frequent changeover of styles and moods. One moment can be delicate impressionism, the next world-music folk song, then an atonal free jazz eruption. And the changes keep coming. I don’t know for sure, but perhaps the various sections of the piece correspond to the historical figures in the long list. If so, it would be fun to know which is who, like a roman à clef.


The one thing that is different from much of Zorn’s work, however, (at least from what I know) is that this music has more sustained passages of lyricism, tonality, and fragility. The inclusion of and emphasis on strings and harp has a lot to do with this, and one can speculate whether these structural and sonic tropes are all part of a certain essentialist musical take the composer has on femininity. But I just bring it up and go no further; that’s a big, fraught, and somewhat dangerous topic, which the composer can speak to if he wants.


In general, I find the music attractive and engaging. You want to follow it over its course, and don’t get bored. Ikue Mori’s live electronics are a great recontextualizer for whatever occurs, because when they interact with more traditional sounding music, the interpretation gets much more ambiguous. At the same time, I don’t hear anything here that blows me away; in other words, it’s fresh but feels almost like a cutting from a vast cloth that’s continuously unfurling, which is rather the way I see the composer’s relentlessly prolific output. Interesting to think that Zorn might actually be our era’s Telemann (which, believe me, is pretty high up the achievement roster).


The ensemble performs brilliantly, and does its changes on a dime. Laurie Anderson is on hand to provide a few sentences of invocation at the start, and gives the whole thing some gravitas. Overall high-concept, high production values (Tzadik’s sound is stunning). This is for you if you want a multistylistic, multidisciplinary buzz.


FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

1.
Femina by John Zorn
Performer:  Carol Emanuel (Harp), Ikue Mori (Electronics), Jennifer Choi (Violin),
Sylvie Courvoisier (Piano), Shayna Dunkelman (Percussion), Okkyung Zee (Cello)
2.
Femina: Part 1 by John Zorn
Performer:  Carol Emanuel (Harp), Ikue Mori (Electronics), Jennifer Choi (Violin),
Sylvie Courvoisier (Piano), Shayna Dunkelman (Percussion), Okkyung Zee (Cello)
Conductor:  John Zorn
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 11 Minutes 42 Secs. 
Notes: : Laurie Anderson. 
3.
Femina: Part 2 by John Zorn
Performer:  Carol Emanuel (Harp), Shayna Dunkelman (Percussion), Okkyung Zee (Cello),
Ikue Mori (Electronics), Jennifer Choi (Violin), Sylvie Courvoisier (Piano)
Conductor:  John Zorn
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 10 Minutes 11 Secs. 
4.
Femina: Part 3 by John Zorn
Performer:  Ikue Mori (Electronics), Jennifer Choi (Violin), Sylvie Courvoisier (Piano),
Carol Emanuel (Harp), Shayna Dunkelman (Percussion), Okkyung Zee (Cello)
Conductor:  John Zorn
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 10 Minutes 15 Secs. 
5.
Femina: Part 4 by John Zorn
Performer:  Sylvie Courvoisier (Piano), Carol Emanuel (Harp), Shayna Dunkelman (Percussion),
Ikue Mori (Electronics), Jennifer Choi (Violin), Okkyung Zee (Cello)
Conductor:  John Zorn
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 3 Minutes 16 Secs. 

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