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John Zorn - Sanatorium Under The Sign Of The Hourglass  CD (album) cover


John Zorn



4.00 | 4 ratings

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Anthony H.
Prog Reviewer
4 stars John Zorn: Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass [2005]

Rating: 7/10

John Zorn is known for his Jewish identity; since the beginning of his career, he has infused ethnic Jewish music with his own brand of avant-garde jazz insanity. The Masada songbooks are probably the best representation of this, combining klezmer with avant-jazz and string music. Zorn has also spearheaded an artistic movement known as "Radical Jewish Music", dedicated to avant-garde interpretations of Jewish musical styles. The man has many musical personalities, and I have always considered this one to be one of his best. All of his compositional strengths are at their peak while he's doing music like this. Thus, I was immensely excited when I learned of this album's existence. These ten Zorn compositions are performed by The Cracow Klezmer Band, one of the most celebrated klezmer ensembles of recent years. The excellence of the compositions stands on its own, but the band's performance adds another layer of invigoration. Accordion and violin are the main melodic instruments here (although there is occasional clarinet, as well). This is backed up a subtle yet fantastic rhythm section with light percussion and jazzy double-bass. This musicianship is absolutely incredible, and nearly every piece makes for a stirring listen.

"Meshakh" opens the album with a traditional-sounding motif. Excellent accordion and viloin soloing dominates this track, backed up by a consistent rhythm section. "Galgalim" is darker in tone. The strings pound away here, and they sound wonderful. The slow and semi-ambient "Tirzah" features plodding accordions and gorgeous female vocals. This track is an undoubted highlight. "Yesod" features exotic percussion and invigoratingly ripping violin. "Pagiel" sounds like the soundtrack to some sort of macabre folktale. The main motif is simple yet effective. "Adithaim" features a driving rhythm section and superb dissonant soloing. "Hamadah" is a subdued piece with emotive clarinet crooning. "Regalim" is one of the more dull tracks on the album; it's needlessly repetitive. "Demai" is also a bit boring. The ambience fails to be compellingly atmospheric. "Meholalot" ends this lull, ending the album with memorable motifs and more excellent guest vocals.

I am enormously impressed with Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass. This is superbly composed and expertly performed ethic music. At times, it wows with virtuosity; at other times, it creates a subtle atmosphere. There isn't anything particularly avant-garde or experimental here. Instead, Zorn explores the more traditional side of his musical persona. This is both a good and bad thing. It prevents the album from getting bogged down in needless experimental noodling. However, it also bogs the album down a bit. Many of these tracks feel slightly homogeneous and formulaic. Regardless, this is an excellent album that should appeal to a broad spectrum of listeners, including casual music fans.

Anthony H. | 4/5 |


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