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John Zorn - Kristallnacht CD (album) cover


John Zorn



2.69 | 20 ratings

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4 stars As I sit down to write this review, I really find myself at a total loss for words. I'm really not sure exactly how I feel about this album. It's dark, stirring, and poignant, and yet it's also incredibly difficult. John Zorn is one of the most important American avant-garde composers (though he's not necessarily prog), and this is a great effort, but I just don't know how to accurately express the wide range of emotions this album makes me feel. It can move me to tears one instant and make me tear my hair out in frustration the next. It can reach my soul with its beauty and then turn around and leave me feeling only disgust and dirtiness. And even then, there's still much more to it.

For this album to touch you as deeply as it touched me, you need some background information. John Zorn is Jewish, as you might expect from the title of the album (and of several other of his albums) and from the title of his record label, Tzadik (a Hebrew word that forms the root of the word for charity, tzedakah). Kristallnacht itself is a German word for "night of the broken glass," and is the name given to the night when Nazis broke into the homes of Jews and beat them, and took baseball bats and broke the windows of Jewish-owned shops (often stealing from them in the process), and set fire to synagogues across Germany. This, in essence, began the Holocaust, one of the worst genocides known, in which two thirds (6 million) of the world's nine million Jews were slaughtered ruthlessly. It is this that this album captures so perfectly and breathtakingly.

As for the music itself, this album is quite possibly the densest and most challenging album I have ever faced. Shtetl (Ghetto Life), the opening track, gives no indication of what's to come, a soft jazzy piece with some traditional Jewish music influences added in, moving and highly expressive. For those who don't know Yiddish, shtetls were basically slums, ghettos, if you will, in which Jews were forced to live, shut off from the core of German society. After Shtetl (Ghetto Life) ends, however, John Zorn presents the most difficult piece of music I know by leaps and bounds. The first seven minutes of Never Again are simply noise, and the last five aren't much better. There is no melody, and there seems to be little structure. It is impossible to digest. And yet, Zorn makes it work, somehow. He manages to make this cacophony moving, even more moving than Shtetl (Ghetto Life) was.

The rest of the album is no easier to listen to, nor is it any less moving. I do not know anything else by John Zorn, so I have no ruler to measure this by, but all I can say is that, with Kristallnacht, Zorn delivers. I cannot say that I like this album, because that would be untrue. I would never listen to this album for entertainment, it's just not that kind of album. This is an album I put on very rarely, to remind myself that it is up to me, up to all of us, to make sure that there really is truth in the "never again" prophecy. With the current genocide in Darfur, my hopes are not high. I do not mean to sound pretentious, but this truly isn't an album to be enjoyed. It is an album to be heard, to be taken to heart. It is meant to disturb you, to make you think. Approach this album with extreme caution. I give it four stars because it is extremely effective at what it does and because it has great personal significance to me, but I cannot recommend it to everyone by any means.

Pnoom! | 4/5 |


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