John Zorn? Romance? Children? You know there's something fishy going on in the Zorn camp when the king of the skronky avant-garde borrows such loaded nouns for the first release in his new series of "quirky" compositions. Music For Children, a compilation of mostly spare works performed by the usual suspects, is indeed more of a clearinghouse than his generally focused Composer Series releases. Furthermore, the closest Music For Children actually comes to music for children is on the first and last tracks, "Fils Des Etoiles" and "SooKi's Lullaby," which feature Anthony Coleman's haunting but distinctly childlike celeste playing. Not surprisingly, none of the tracks are particularly romantic, either, but as far as the album title goes, it's often tough to tell when Zorn is being sincere and when he's goofing around. The mood of his recent compositions tends to be more serious than the crazy, cartoon-inspired cut-ups for which he's known, as Zorn's current explorations of Judaism, free jazz, and 20th-century classical music don't really lend themselves to joking around. But Music For Children is a lot lighter than disquieting collections like the somber new Aporias. The pieces here range from three unreleased Naked City bits (though not performed by the original line-up) to Zorn's own 20-minute Edgard Varese tribute "Cycles Du Nord" ("a composition for three wind machines and two acoustic feedback systems"), and most were written in the past year or so. As usual, everything is worth a listen, but "Dreamer Of Dreams"—with Marc Ribot, Erik Friedlander, and Greg Cohen playing a vaguely Semitic lounge vamp—and the two sneeze-fast NC tracks ("Bikini Atoll" and "Bone Crusher") are exceptional additions to Zorn's expansive catalog.

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