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Monday, November 2, 2009

John Zorn - Femina (Tzadik, 2009) ****

I'm always reluctant to put people into boxes, and especially the big boxes like gender, race or religion. But apparently not John Zorn, who creates this all female band, to release an album called "Femina", and inspired by great women in history. Is there music by women for women? Is there anything specific to women's music? Do they have different skills, insights, sensitivities? Can you stop being a "minority" if you behave like or act as a "minority"? All pertinent questions too complex for my two brain cells to fathom.

The band consists of Jennifer Choi on violin, Sylvie Courvoisier on piano, Carol Emanuel on harp, Okkyung Lee on cello, Ikue Mori on electronics, Shayna Dunkelman on percussion, with Laurie Anderson opening the album with a few seconds of narration.

The strange thing about the music is that it really is John Zorn composing and conducting : you recognize some of his stylistic fingerprints, as well as the combination of sweet melodies and rhythms with dissonant and harsh parts, but these are now all part of the same album, integrated in the suite-like pieces, almost sounding like a collage of sounds, shifting into extremes, but the end result is absolutely fresh and intriguing.

The album is short, a little over 35 minutes, too short in my opinion, because the music and the band could have resulted in much more.

The famous women that were used as inspiration for the music are as diverse as Hildegard von Bingen, Meredith Monk, Simone de Beauvoir, Frida Kahlo, Madame Blavatsky, Isadora Duncan, Hélène Cixous, Gertrude Stein, Abe Sada, Sylvia Plath, Louise Bourgeois, Margaret Mead, Loie Fuller, Dorothy Parker, Yoko Ono and the moon goddess En Hedu’Anna, except for the latter almost all intellectuals and artists.

Too short, but indeed fresh, full of paradoxes and musical idioms, full of character and style, full of refinement while being headstrong. Sweet with sharp claws. Very sweet and very sharp.

Listen and download from iTunes.

© stef


posty mcposterton said...

I dig it... spun it for the first time yesterday. I think it could have used a little more (yeah, too short). Plus adding someone like Carla Kihlstedt would have been nice. Overall, great record, though. The packaging was really cool, too... so for those of you who like the physical CDs, go for it instead of the iTunes DL.