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John Zorn - Kristallnacht CD (album) cover


John Zorn



2.94 | 14 ratings

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Anthony H.
Prog Reviewer
4 stars John Zorn: Kristallnacht [1993]

Rating: 7/10

Kristallnacht is one of John Zorn's most acclaimed releases. It is also one of his most controversial. Zorn is a known for his Jewish heritage; he often incorporates elements of Jewish culture into his music in both compositional and emotional ways. This album is the most harrowing example of the latter. On Kristallnacht, Zorn attempts to musically encapsulate the events before, during, and after the infamous "Night of Broken Glass." Kristallnacht is generally considered to be the beginning of the holocaust; on November 9-10, 1938, Nazi stormtroopers brutally terrorized Jewish communities throughout Germany and Austria. Thousands of homes were ransacked and hundreds of synagogues were destroyed. Needless to say, a musical representation of such an event would be an intense and harrowing listen. Kristallnacht certainly does not disappoint on this front. These compositions employ jangling dissonance and harsh brutality in order to illustrate the unsavory subject matter. However, this discord is balanced with somber and eerie chamber music in order to create a fleshed-out and well-rounded musical illustration.

The fantastic opener "Shtetl (Ghetto Life)" is a combination of Jewish jazz and dark chamber music. It begins with gorgeous trumpet, and deep cellos and clarinet add to the atmosphere. The eleven-minute "Never Again" is the most controversial piece on the album; in fact, it's one of the most controversial pieces Zorn has ever done. I can understand why; this is not an easy track to listen to. A large amount of it consists of brutally harsh broken-glass noises layered on top of each other to create an intensely piercing wall of sound. Normally, I would find something like this to be detestable. However, I think this track works. There is a musical sense behind the noise, hard as it is to identify. The atmosphere, while unpleasant, actually manages to be effective, and the somber string interlude serves as an excellent foil to the harsh noise. I can understand why somebody would hate this piece, but I think it works well within the context of what Zorn is trying to do here. "Gahelet (Embers)" serves as an excellent foil to the previous sonic assault. This is a quiet, minimalistic piece that wonderfully illustrates the quiet aftermath of brutality. "Tikkun (Rectification)" focuses entirely on discordant strings; this piece has a disturbingly intimate feel. "Tzafia (Looking Ahead)" alternates between dissonant heaviness and eerie chamber music. The clarinet work is superb, and the violin is suitably creepy. This is another strong piece. "Barzel (Iron Fist)" is a brief burst of heaviness that reminds me of marching boots. The bolero-like "Gariin (Nucleus-The New Settlement)" ends the album in a menacing manner. A driving bass/drum line permeates this piece, with increasing dissonant instrumentation building upon it.

Although Kristallnact is a flawed piece of work, it's such an emotionally honest and well-developed release that most of these flaws can be cast aside. This album seeks to be a musical illustration, and it succeeds enormously with this goal. Every piece here paints a vivid picture: the squalor of Jewish ghettos, the shattering glass of kristallnacht, and the quiet tragedy of the aftermath - just to name a few. This was an emotionally important album for Zorn to make; he saw it as a means of accepting and embracing his cultural heritage. This emotion is reflected in these compositions. This album is undoubtedly an achievement. However, my own subjective taste prevents me from giving it anything higher than a 7/10 rating. I still do very much enjoy the music that Zorn presents here, and I recognize it for the excellence that it is. Kristallnacht is one of John Zorn's most important releases; I would heartily recommend it to anybody interested in his work, as well as to any fan of avant-garde and/or chamber music. This music truly does paint a vivid picture.

Anthony H. | 4/5 |


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