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John Zorn - Angelus Novus CD (album) cover


John Zorn



2.16 | 6 ratings

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Anthony H.
Prog Reviewer
2 stars John Zorn: Angelus Novus [1998]

Rating: 4/10

Angelus Novus is yet another avant-classical album from John Zorn. Up to this point in his career, Zorn's classical compositions usually focused on ambiance and minimalism; they were brooding chamber music pieces that often juxtaposed harshness with subtle and understated instrumentation. On Angelus Novus, Zorn takes a different approach. A full orchestra is employed on this album; the "Callithumpian Consort" of the New England Conservatory, no less. The result is an album that is compositionally similar to Zorn's previous classical albums, but completely disparate in terms of sonic approach. Zorn's avant-garde madness is approached with a new level of bombast. However, this bombast doesn't manage to mask the glaring compositional weaknesses of these four pieces.

"For Your Eyes Only" lacks any sort of musical cohesion. It plays like a sketchbook of undeveloped ideas, including orchestral bombast, quiet avant-garde sections, jazzy interludes, and cartoon-music lapses. There's potential here, but the final product is underdeveloped and underwhelming. "Christabel" features five flautists and a violist. The first half is quiet and brooding, and the second half is dissonant and violent. This piece is a minor success; it's difficult to make flutes sound menacing, but Zorn manages it here. This is the definite highlight of the album. "Carny" is a thirteen-minute solo piano piece performed by Stephen Drury. This piece reminds me of Rick Wright's "Sysyphus" from Pink Floyd's Ummagumma, although I'm sure that Zorn had no such thing in mind while composing it. It's a fairly strong piece, but like "For Your Eyes Only", it sounds like a mishmash of ideas. The title piece suffers from the same ailment. It sounds a crazy orgy of horns with little sense of musical identity or structure.

This is yet another Zorn album that appears unconcerned with coherency or intelligibility. Such things do not matter in a genre like free-jazz, but they certainly do matter in a genre like contemporary-classical. That is not to say that experimentation is unacceptable; on the contrary, it is welcomed. However, Zorn allows this experimentation to unravel the musicality of his compositions. This approach works at certain points, such as during the second half of "Christabel"; for the most part, however, it fails. Angelus Novus is not a wretched album, but there are countless better releases in this style. In fact, there are countless better Zorn releases in this style.

Anthony H. | 2/5 |


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