John Zorn – Music Romance Vol. 1: Music for Children – Tzadik 782, 49:30 **** [Distr. by Koch]:
(John Zorn, alto sax, wind machines, acoustic feedback systems, bass drums; Anthony Coleman, celeste; Cyro Baptista, vocals and percussion; Alex Lacamore, keyboards; Mason Wendell, bass and vocals; Dane Johnson, guitar; Andy Sanesi, drums; Jeff Hudgins, alto sax; David Abel, violin; Julie Steinberg, piano; William Winant, percussion; Marc Ribot, guitar; Greg Cohen, bass; Erik Friedlander, cello; Lou Reed, guitar feedback)
Originally released in 1998, John Zorn’s Music Romance Vol. 1: Music for Children has now been remastered and revised, and it still sounds as strange as it did back then. Zorn, whose musical base has always been jazz, has spent his career finding affinities between jazz’s improvisational spirit and the sound of Japanese noise rock or La Monte Young-esque drone music, with detours into spaghetti western soundtracks and film noir music for fun. On Music for Children, Zorn combines, among other things, soul-jazz, noise rock, African lullabies, and Lou Reed’s guitar feedback.
The album’s first track, Fils Des Etoiles, features Anthony Coleman on celeste and Brazilian musician Cyro Baptista singing and playing percussion, and it’s a gorgeous, fragile piece whose calm is shattered by the next track, This Way Out, a collaboration with the Boston band Prolapse that alternates between screaming thrash rock, bebop interludes, and bursts of Hammond B-3 organ. Thankfully, the track is only a minute and ten seconds, because this schizophrenic genre mash-up wears out its welcome early. Next is the fourteen-minute-long Music For Children, which sounds like the soundtrack to an old horror movie, all ominous violin and restless percussion, punctuated by the sound of someone cracking a whip–clearly the song’s title is meant to be ironic. Both Bikini Atoll and Bone Crusher sound like This Way Out, and thankfully they’re equally as short.
Cycles Du Nord, at twenty-one minutes, is the longest track on the album, and it’s been updated for the reissue, with Lou Reed adding guitar and guitar feedback and Zorn peppering bass drum hits throughout. With its main instrument a wind machine that sounds more like a vacuum cleaner, the track has the potential to bore more conventional listeners. But if you’ve bought a John Zorn album, chances are you’ve got an open mind and are willing to listen for hidden tones beneath the "noise." With six minutes left in the track, a distorted guitar appears that brings forth the subtle melody obscured by all the unconventional sounds. The album’s final track, Sooki’s Lullaby, is Anthony Coleman playing a delicate lullaby on a celeste music box, and it’s the closest thing to children’s music you’ll find on the album.
Often beautiful but just as often jarring, Music for Children is a very strange album to classify. For those looking for an odd but ultimately pleasant listening experience, I suggest programming your CD player to play only Fils Des Etoiles, Dreamer of Dreams, Cycles Du Nord, and Sooki’s Lullaby. For those prepared for something far edgier and ugly, go ahead and play the album straight through–you’ve got stronger nerves than I do.
TrackList: Fils Des Etoiles, This Way Out, Music for Children, Bikini Atoll, Bone Crusher, Dreamer of Dreams, Cycles Du Nord, Sooki’s Lullaby)
– Daniel Krow