John Zorn - Filmworks VII: Cynical Hysterie Hour
Tzadik TZ 7315

Zorn — the infamous genre-hopper who at any given moment could sound like a 50s hard-bopper, a snotty punk or a Yiddish klezmer player — pays homage to Carl Stalling’s classic Warner Brothers cartoon scores.

Not a tribute or cover album, Cynical Hysterie Hour captures the spirit of Stalling’s zigzagging backdrops while remaining original and fresh. Where Stalling started with a standard orchestra and added slide guitars and the occasional duck call, Zorn builds from a jazz/rock foundation of guitars, bass and drums, to which he adds turntable scratching, violins, tuba, banjo and unidentifiable noise. The themes skitter like old-fashioned TV channel switching. There was a physical aspect to twisting that old Philco tuner knob, and this music has that same visceral (rather than cerebral) feel.

These scores were created for a series of animated shorts by Kiriko Kubo. The soundtrack went out of print shortly after its release in 1990. For years, Zorn tried to license it from Sony for release in the US, but they refused his every request, although they had no intentions of reissuing it themselves. Over the years the rare import became a hot collectible among Zorn completists, changing hands for big bucks. Finally, an opportunity arose giving Zorn leverage to convince Sony to give him the tapes. The liner notes reveal the details in his own words. It’d be unfair for a review to spoil the story.

CYH is one of Zorn’s wildest and most satisfying recordings, and is a perfect introduction to his huge body of work, recommended to collector and newcomer alike. The whole disk is less than 30 minutes long, but the music’s intense, and larger doses could prove to be harmful. After all, you don’t drink grappa from a water tumbler.