John Zorn – Femina (2009)

FrontCover1John Zorn (born September 2, 1953) is an American composer, arranger, record producer, saxophonist, and multi-instrumentalist with hundreds of album credits as performer, composer, and producer across a variety of genres including jazz, rock, hardcore, classical, surf, metal, soundtrack, ambient, and improvised music. He incorporates diverse styles in his compositions, which he identifies as avant-garde or experimental. Zorn was described by Down Beat as “one of our most important composers”.

Zorn established himself within the New York City downtown music movement in the mid-1970s, performing with musicians across the sonic spectrum and developing experimental methods of composing new music. After releasing albums on several independent US and European labels, Zorn signed with Elektra Nonesuch and received wide acclaim with the release of The Big Gundown, an album reworking the compositions of Ennio Morricone. He attracted further attention worldwide with the release of Spillane in 1987 and Naked City in 1990. After spending almost a decade travelling between Japan and the US, he made New York his permanent base and established his own record label, Tzadik, in the mid-1990s.


Tzadik enabled Zorn to maintain independence from the mainstream music industry and ensured the continued availability of his growing catalog of recordings, allowing him to prolifically record and release new material, issuing several new albums each year, as well as promoting the work of many other musicians. Zorn has led the hardcore bands Naked City and Painkiller, the Jewish music-inspired jazz quartet Masada, composed 613 pieces as part of the three Masada songbooks that have been performed by an array of groups, composed concert music for classical ensembles and orchestras, and produced music for opera, sound installations, film and documentary. Zorn has undertaken many tours of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, often performing at festivals with many other musicians and ensembles that perform his diverse output. (wikipedia)

Femina is an album by John Zorn recorded in New York City in December 2008 and released on the Tzadik label in October 2009. The album is a tribute to the artistic creativity of women. (wikipedia)


John Zorn’s 2009 album Femina is a tribute to a variety of women named in the CD insert — singers, dancers, novelists, poets, painters, sculptors, photographers, playwrights, musicians, actresses, scientists, filmmakers, theologians, mystics, anthropologists, and philosophers — some historical and some mythological, some well known and some obscure (and some even infamous), from numerous modern and ancient cultures. The diversity in the list can be seen as a metaphor for the nature of Zorn’s composition, which is constructed of many strongly characterized but disparate and apparently unrelated elements; each taken individually is intriguing in itself, and taken as a whole, the wildly variegated work has a surprising and appealing integrality. For the structure of the piece, Zorn returned to the working method he used for earlier works like Spillane, his “file card technique,” in which he writes musical ideas on file cards, arranges them into a musically meaningful order, and then fleshes out the ideas and orchestrates them, some with detailed specificity, and some leaving many decisions up to the performers. The fact that there are 52 women on the list, 52 pages in the accompanying booklet of images by Kiki Smith, and a total of 48 images in the booklet, two on the insert cards, and two on the outside of the CD cover, leads to speculation that 52 may hold numerological significance for the composer, and may also be reflected in the number of discrete music events assembled here.


The music is among Zorn’s most immediately engaging. It still consists of the juxtaposition of brief, sometimes jarringly disjunct musical ideas that has been a characteristic of much of his work, but while there are still some grindingly dissonant sections, the tone is predominantly lyrical. The fragments are longer, so his typically jumpy juxtapositions are slowed down to a pace that gives the listener a chance to comfortably settle into a mood before being yanked into a startlingly contrasting sound world. Sometime a single idea is extended for more than a minute, an almost unheard-of length for Zorn, and the slower pace contributes to the gentle tone of the piece. Several sections, such as the last episode on track three, a serene, melancholy duet for piano and violin lasting over a minute, are achingly lovely. The six performers, violinist Jennifer Choi, cellist Okkyung Lee, harpist Carol Emanuel, pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, percussionist Shayna Dunkelman, with Ikue Mori on electronics, play with commitment, understanding, and an integrated sense of ensemble. The constitution of the ensemble allows Zorn to create music of exceptional timbral delicacy, and he thoroughly exploits the instruments’ possibilities for producing gossamer, otherworldly sounds. Beautifully engineered, Femina is an album that reveals yet another facet of the composer’s multifarious creative personality and is one that could attract new listeners to his work. Highly recommended.  (by Stephen Eddins)


Laurie Anderson (narration)
Jennifer Choi (violin)
Sylvie Courvoisier (piano)
Shayna Dunkelman (percussion)
Carol Emanuel (harp)
Okkyung Lee (cello)
Ikue Mori (electronics)

counducted by John Zorn


01. Femina Part 1 / 11.40
02. Femina Part 2 / 10.10
03. Femina Part 3 / 10.09
04. Femina Part 4 / 3.08

All compositions by John Zorn




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