The Arty Semite

Monday Music: A John Zorn Christmas

By Matthew Kassel

  • Print
  • Share Share

The CD case to John Zorn’s first Christmas record, “A Dreamers Christmas,” comes as a sort of stocking. Reaching into the sleeve you’ll find, along with the CD, a sheet of stickers that could represent a new line of holiday-themed Giga Pets.

You might be tempted to over-think this album, with its cute and somewhat disturbing iconography, especially if you’ve come to expect music from Zorn more agitating than these lovely tracks. You shouldn’t. Zorn released this album through his own label, Tzadik, which puts out a steady stream of avant-garde recordings. And although he only served as producer and arranger here, this jazz album is as much Zorn’s brainchild as it is the Dreamers’, the band he assembled.

With Marc Ribot on guitar, Kenny Wollesen on vibraphone, Joey Baron on drums, Jamie Saft on keyboards, Trevor Dunn on bass and Cyro Baptista on percussion, the Dreamers play catchy, riff-based music that reflects a wide range of styles: surf-rock, lounge, exotica, blues and straight-ahead jazz. They do this with an appealing earnestness that works wonderfully on a Christmas album.

Occasionally, Zorn’s affinity for weirdness peeks through. Near the end of a cheerful rendition of “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” the Rhodes slithers in and out like a warped radio broadcast. At the beginning and end of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” the childish strumming of an acoustic guitar and the disorderly banging on wood caused me to imagine a few elves sitting around quizzically experimenting with toys.

Aside from those moments, the Dreamers mainly swing, bouncily, sometimes to the accompaniment of harmonized bells. The first three tracks (covers of “Winter Wonderland,” “Snowfall” and “Christmas Time Is Here”) are as shimmeringly peaceful as a fresh coat of snow.

Most of this music is deliciously layered with the island twang of Ribot’s guitar, the luminescence of Wollesen’s vibraphone (and occasional glockenspiel) and the rhythmic shuffle of Baptista’s sleigh bells. If these songs were cookies, they’d be multi-colored macaroons.

Mike Patton joins in on “The Christmas Song” with his rich, baritone croon — a straight and beautiful take on a tune that has been covered countless times. Mel Tormé, a Jew, wrote the song with Bob Wells in 1944. In fact, five of the nine tracks on “A Dreamers Christmas” were written by Jews — two of them by Zorn himself.

Zorn’s Christmas offerings, “Santa’s Workshop” and “Magical Sleigh Ride,” do not possess the melodic power of, say, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” also covered on this record. It’s unlikely that they’ll become sentimental standards. However, by producing this album and composing these songs, Zorn joins the pantheon of great, Jewish composers — Irving Berlin, Julie Styne, Jay Livingston — who contributed their talents to the Christmas songbook.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: John Zorn, Matthew Kassel, A Dreamers Christmas, Christmas, Music

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Yeshiva University's lawyer wanted to know why the dozens of former schoolboys now suing over a sexual abuse cover-up didn't sue decades ago. Read the judge's striking response here.
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.