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John Zorn - Nosferatu CD (album) cover

NOSFERATU

John Zorn

RIO/Avant-Prog


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Slartibartfast
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Bram Stoker is 100 years dead as of April 2012. Imagine that. Nosferatu is actually the name of a movie released in 1922 based on Stoker's novel Dracula but the studio wasn't able to get the rights the novel. The music was created for a modern Polish stage production that is supposed to be "of" the novel. I wasn't able to verify what they are actually calling the play, but anyway... I was a big horror movie fan and also a movie soundtrack fan when I was a kid before I got into prog and jazz and classical so I had to go for this album and it has some of all of that all rolled together. Before you even get to the music you have to take a look at and a feel of the package. The Tzadic label gets two thumbs up for all the CD album packaging and artwork I have encountered so far. The outer cover is a velvety textured black cardboard with dark red slick textured lettering and a little bat on the front. The back is also smooth and velvety with dripping blood from the top edge. The booklet is more of a matt finish but also uses slick clear lettering on the front and clear slick blood streaks running down from the top edges of the pages in various patterns. The booklet has a few pages of pictures from the production (play, dance?) and it looks like it would be really good to see. Maybe it will make it to DVD one day.

Two other albums come to mind and they are Philip Glass's Dracula soundtrack for the Bela Lugosi movie that did get the novel rights and Harold Budd's (not at all about Dracula or Nosferatu) She Is A Phantom. The latter album comes closer to it for having vibes and a more atmospheric quality to the music. Put the three together and you'll have a nice spooky trio.

The track names are fairly indicative of the music you get. The starter track Desolate Landscape starts out the album with foreboding dark ambient music. Mina mellows it out a little while with piano and vibes. The Battle of Good and Evil noisy as you would expect from a battle between good and evil. John gets to in a little of his trademark sax strangling of course. Very industrial sounding a little Nine Inch Nailsish.

Sinistera and Van Helsing have that spooky vibes driven sound that makes me think of the Budd album. Fatal Sunrise brings back some mellower sax work and Bill Laswell steps forward with some atmospheric bass. Hypnosis comes in and spins around your head vibes and electric piano. The Lucy theme has some similarities to another piece from another album, but I can't quite put my finger on it right now. All of the non-undead persons titled pieces on this are really down to earth, mellow, and contemplative. Nosferatu on the other hand is screwy and creepy with rat noises and Zorn's breath.

The Stalking is one of those trademark Bill Laswell ambient dub style pieces. It's a long stalking too, as all stalking should be I guess. Old horror movie stalkings tend to be that way. It's the longest piece. The bass plods on along and creepy keyboards and squealing sax drift in and out and about. The Undead is a quiet piece with John on piano. Death Ship sounds like a creaky old vessel on a dead sea. Jonathan Harker has Rob Burger, the main keyboardist in the group, taking center stage in a duet with the group's percussionist, Kevin Norton, on vibes.

Vampires At Large, bass and electric keyboards lurking about. Renfield, piano and vibes again, hesitant, a little mysterious. Stalker Dub wraps it up, figures, did you remember to shoot it in the head with a silver bullet? No wait? that's all wrong. The stake, the stake, aieeee!!!

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Send comments to Slartibartfast (BETA) | Report this review (#780434)
Posted Saturday, June 30, 2012 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars 'Nosferatu' - John Zorn (8/10)

Truth be told, I haven't always liked the work of John Zorn. Although I agree with the notion that his best work is indicative of genius, I often get the impression with his solo albums that- quite frankly- there's not a great deal of intent behind them. Most of his musical ideas are engaging in the very least, but considering the man has put out several albums in this year alone, the hit-or-miss factor with his discography is no surprise. With that in mind, it is a joy and marvel to hear such a well-composed and executed album from him. John Zorn may be one of the most prolific composers out there, but as "Nosferatu" attests, this does not necessarily conflict with his quality. Minding the gap between dark ambient music and jazz, Zorn fashions an engaging and altogether believable horror film experience. However, amidst the subtle dissonance and spooky atmosphere, there are a handful of traditionally beautiful jazz tunes that distance it further from the concept gimmick it could have been made out to be. I wasn't sure what to expect at first, but Mr. Zorn has created something excellent with "Nosferatu".

"Nosferatu", of course, was originally a silent film; a masterpiece of German expressionism that managed to instill a sense of dread and macabre without a single touch of sound. Once again, in 1979, director Werner Herzog reimagined the vampire story into his own version, which ended up a masterpiece in its own right. For Zorn's purposes, I think the attention should be placed on the original. Although I'm not sure this album is timed meticulously enough to function as a proper soundtrack for the film, it's easy to envision the dark soundscapes here scoring a panning shot of a dilapidated manor-castle or a dimly lit banquet hall. "Desolate Landscape" is very much a representation of the ambient style on the album. It largely negates melody or even rhythm, instead focusing on mixing sounds and embellishing certain textures. The result may be lost on some listeners looking for something less abstract, but the effect of the atmosphere comes on strong and fast. It's oddly reminiscent of the same dark ambient stretches that the avant-garde black metal band Deathspell Omega have used in a couple of their albums.

Taking a look at the album titles, you can usually tell when it's going to be a dark ambient track. There is not a wild diversity within these compositions, but each feels distinctive enough to tell apart from the rest. "Fatal Sunrise" and "Death Ship" are other tracks to look out for. Had "Nosferatu" consisted of nothing but these pieces, I would have been impressed by its keen play with textures, but admittedly bored. Luckily, these dark ambient pieces are kept interesting by the fact that they're interspersed among a handful of more conventional jazz tracks. Fans of his work in Naked City may be expecting Zorn's 'jazz' here to be a chaotic swirl, but barring "The Battle of Good and Evil" (which is just as freaky as you would expect!) things are kept soft and even rather beautiful. "Lucy" and "Jonathan Harker" are the two greatest things "Nosferatu" has to offer. Although Zorn occasionally lends his virtuosic alto sax playing, the star performer here is pianist Rob Burger, who makes these largely keyboard-driven tunes come to life. These pieces often come close to feeling cinematic in their own right, albeit in a much different form than the spooky ambient material. Although the more abstract material on "Nosferatu" is something I think will provoke a love-or-hate response in most people, the piano-based tunes should be memorably beautiful by just about everyone's measure.

It's a great album, and Zorn proves here that he can take a concept piece seriously, without it becoming too abstract to process enjoyably. It's almost as if Zorn is Zappa's evil half- brother.

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Send comments to Conor Fynes (BETA) | Report this review (#834450)
Posted Sunday, October 07, 2012 | Review Permalink

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