It’s always gratifying to see a musician establish a creative pinnacle, then top it with a following work.
John Zorn’s ninth Filmworks album, Trembling Before G-d, was his prettiest and his most beautiful score to date.
Limiting himself to keyboards, clarinet and percussion, Zorn produced an intensely emotional score with very minimal elements. It was hard to imagine anything better.
Then Zorn goes and records Filmworks X: In the Mirror of Maya Deren.
Using much of the same instrumentation as Trembling Before G-d — replacing only Chris Speed’s clarinet with Erik Friedlander’s cello —
Zorn once again creates an introspective, melodic, intimate score, at the same time creating a work totally different from its predecessor.
On Trembling Before G-d, director Sandi Simcha Dubowski requested Zorn include a specific Masada piece in the score. That restriction led Zorn to pillage his Masada songbook.
On this film, director Martina Kudlacek placed no such requirements on Zorn when he started working on the documentary about film director Maya Deren. Instead, he explores Deren’s own interest in classical and world music, as well as her early years living in Kiev.
The resulting music jumps from Indonesian-influenced percussive pieces (“Teiji’s Time”, “Nightscape”), mournful Eastern European melodies (“Kiev”, “Nostalgia”), tribal-like drumming (“Voudoun”), and sparse, string-and-piano duos (“Drifting”).
Zorn’s ability to speak different musical languages comes through, but instead of jarring listeners with the abrupt quick jump cuts of his past, Zorn channels his fluency into a single, cohesive sound.
Just because he can be flashy doesn’t mean he needs to be. In that regard, Zorn’s compositions have definitely matured.
Where Trembling Before G-d felt at times incidental, In the Mirror of Maya Deren feels like a work that can stand separate from the film. A listener doesn’t need to see Kudlacek’s documentary to appreciate the music.
(There’s probably little chance a film about an obscure director is going to nudge the latest Ben Affleck vehicle out of the multiplexes.)
As such, In the Mirror of Maya Deren makes for good listening regardless of context. Let’s see Zorn top this one.