The music of composer-saxophonist John Zorn has never been predictable, and this collection of the maverick's string-quartet work is certainly no different. Cat O'Nine Tails starts the set off: a 13-minute exploration of jump cuts and lifted melodies; it's filled with the most perfectly deceptive ways that Zorn can confuse, trick, and humor his listeners. The piece never settles down, owing as much debt to (Carl) Stalling as Stravinsky. The Dead Man, a piece Zorn thinks of as his imagined "soundtrack" to "necessarily short S/M scenes," consists of 13 jarring suites of note-bending meditations and string shrieks. But things do get serious. Memento Mori--a 1992 piece that Zorn admits is a challenge for most listeners--transitions synapse-delicate passages to melodious bars with alarming beauty. On the achingly gorgeous Kol Nidre, Zorn infuses a near-minimalist composition with Jewish melodies to powerful effect. This is Zorn's ode to the music of Arvo Pärt (and late Beethoven)--a highlight. While Zorn's best-known chamber music has been played by the Kronos Quartet, the jazz lineup on this disc is no less impressive: Joyce Hammann and Mark Feldman on violins, Lois Martin on viola, and Erik Friedlander on cello.
1. Cat O'nine Tails
The Dead Man
13 Specimens for String Quartet
15. Memento Mori
16. Kol Nidre