Tuesday, May 19, 2009

John Zorn - Filmworks XXIII (Tzadik, 2009)

Composer and saxophonist John Zorn's latest soundtrack projects was for the docummentary of Mexican dictator Elias Calles, who ruled Mexico during the 1920's. Zorn doesn't play on this album, but provides the compositions and general direction of the music. Performing on this album are Marc Ribot on acoustic and electric guitar, Rob Burger on piano and accordion, Greg Cohen on bass and Kenny Wollesen on marimba, vibraphone and drums. The music is very subdued for the most part and cinematic, naturally, very much in the range of sketches or sound painting. "Los Cristeros" is the opener, and my favorite track on the album. It's subversive setting a mellow and atmospheric scene, for Ribot to come in with a stinging guitar solo. He really is white hot here, but within the context of the project and the setting. From here, things are a little subdued, "El General" has mellow marimba and whistful accordion and the addition of guitar, and "Besos de Sangre" has some gentle acoustic guitar. "Maximato" has a jaunty feel, with Ribo creeping back in with slightly spicy guitar. "Soviet Mexico" has a dusty, desert feel with atmospheric piano chords. Just when it seems that we are getting ready to nod off to sleep, Marc Ribot saves the day (and really dominates the album) building to a snarling solo over the unique sound of piano, guitar and marimba. According to the liner notes, Zorn was wary of the project and had to be prodded by Ribot, who realized that the setting offered him some excellent improvisation opportunities. His weariness was borne out as apparently only a few songs were used in the final film. There is some good music here, especially for Ribot fans as he is really the MVP of this session.

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