Friday, July 19, 2013

Zorn@60 at Warsaw Summer Jazz Days 2013 (15.07)

The intellectual air of New York must be really conservative these days – John Zorn at 60 years young looks great. It's hard to think of an artist more keen on breaking bounderies – Zorn does so in each kind of artistic activity he engages in – as a musician, composer, publisher. Zorn@60 is an event designed to present multifaceted versatility of his repertoire and vastness of his vision and ambitions.

Set I

The all-star The Dreamers begin the evening, in a company of three singers, with just a slight change in a line-up – John Medeski sits in on keys for Jamie Saft. The formation takes upon the proug name Song Project.
Mike Patton cuts through the air with the very first song. It's rock'n'roll with the right amount of hardcore. Some of the next remind you of the drunk bar-songs by Tom Waitts. Patton's voice comes straight from the guts, it can nonetheless charm you with the deep, if a bit rusty tone. Just to pierce the space with primal scream right afterwards.
The dynamite intro is followed by Sofia Rei – songs she's featured in resonate with the bittter-sweet latin note. It's lyrical, Sofia's voice is deeply emotional, if a bit theatrical. Her strong voice fits well with Mike's in the duo setting as well.
The third vocalist – Jesse Harris does not fit the bill. No stage charisma, his voice thin, soft and bit flat. His songs in the smooth-pop-rock-jazz vein, along with occasional bossa nova only reinforced that impression. Nicety but guttless. To create on stage collision between Patton of Harris – that's a sign of demiurge's cruelty.
John Zorn sits in the middle of the stage, a master of puppets of sorts to direct the show – here's a juicy guitar solo by Ribot, there's John Medeski on piano to charm the audience. It's all good, with such fine musicians on stage it must be.

Set II
I admit to miss the short piano trio Illuminations' performance. The second act was a presentation of John Zorn – a camposer. The vocal female quintet The Holy Visions, turned out to be, attention:spoiler, the highlight of the evening. The music encompassed the solemnt monodic gregorian chant, echoes of spiritual sephardic music through the harmonic minimalism of Terry Riley and Steve Reich's rhythmicity. Crystal clear harmonies, pitch-perfect execution, a sort of monochromatic black and white purity – it all made The Holy Vision's act precious.

String quartet The Alchemist follows in the same set. Composition presented intrigued and mesmerized as well as irritate in a way that is typical for modern music. Beside the virtuosity and sharp atonal harmonies there's also the over-abundance of the ideas – a result of overtly intellectual approach. It demands respect but lacks emotional impact.


Strong emotions only set. It would be impossible otherwise to get through the massive wall of sound  created by the powerfull section and the high-octane Patton's voice. It was dark and dense. Patton, a human noise machine, builds up theatrical drama on stage, slow and heavy riffs are only interludes before uninhibited scream explosion. I'd have to take quick learning course in the correct use of the terminology but the names black, death and doom metal seemed all quite fitting for the charms of the Templars In Sacred Blood (sic!). Music of cursed ones, no prisoners taken. To those not accustomed to follow the nuances of hardcore it can become a little weary after a while but so does a 60 minutes improv to casual observers. Big plus of the stage charisma, expression and the ominous darkness.

Set IV
The Dreamers return on the stage, this time with the long-bearded Jamie Saft on the keys. And so they play their pretty songs, bit of blues, bit of funk, some rock'n'roll and the demiurge John Zorn, as if behind the control panel, turns the volume up or down, adds or takes out the ingrediens, nominates the soloists and shows when to start or end the piece. And, once again, it's all good. Ribot has the tastiest licks but all the musicians prove their capabilities.
The truth is that with such such in sync section as Dunn – Baron and such musicians it would be enough to give them the „Twinkle, twinkle little star” tune to get 'em up and going for a 30 minute funky jam. The Dreamers is a group of fortunately extraordinary musicians playing unfortunately ordinary music. The performance level is right up there, it's all very enjoyable but a taste of dissatisfaction remains on the lips (ears).

This void was supposed to be filled by the final performance of the night. Electric incarnation of the Zorn's soap opera entitled Masada. Kenny Wollesen abandones the vibes to sit in behind the second drum set, Ikue Mori appears behind her laptop, John Zorn, finally, takes the alto into his hand, although it will be still a while till he blows the first note. The cacophonic gesture-conducted series are woven into the groovy vamps. The real meat is the drum galopade – Joey Baron and Kenny Wollesen thicken the musical space, fuzzy guitar and hammond create the wall of rock sound, complemented by the electronic noise. It's grooooovy. Zorn finally joins with cascades of alto sqealing notes, becomes a participant rather than puppeteer behind the musical act. Some pretty convincing sparks began to fly off the stage. For about 15-20 minutes. To little. The lullaby Dreamers come back for the encore.

Zorn remains one of the prominent personas of modern avant-guarde and one of its most controversial figures – which usually serves well the artist and his art. He remains also the Illusionist and a Juggler who joufully tosses up in the air a plethora of genres – a gesture of intellectual eclectism. It's really not necessary to show Marc Ribot when to play a good solo or measure John Medeski's tacts for the coda.
Zorn's gift remains that of being able to surround himself with brilliant musicians. But the flying circus of Zorn@60 is a sign of artistic megalomania, form over substance. If we deprive Zorn's music of the ingenous guitar solo by Ribot, groovy fender vamp by Medeski, piercing Patton's scream and nuclear percussive drive Baron – Battista it might turn out that … the king is stark naked. A bunch of great solos, Mike Patton's stage charisma, 20 minute of Electric Masada sparks and the vocal charm of The Holy Visions – that's too little for the great celebration of music this evening was supposed to be.

An evening that, just a marginal note, could be cancelled at the very last minute. Some heated discussions about the scenography and lightning resolved in a half an hour delay. Being controversial may be the artist's undeniable right but negative vibes impact both the music and its reception.

and yet Zorn concert's used to be like this:

MIKE PATTON - voice; JESSE HARRIS - voice, guitar; SOFIA REI - voice; JOHN MEDESKI  - piano; MARC RIBOT - guitar; TREVOR DUNN - bass; KENNY WOLLESEN  - vibes; JOEY BARON - drums; CYRO BAPTISTA - percussion; JOHN ZORN - conducting


STEVE GOSLING  - fortepian; TREVOR DUNN  - double bass; KENNY WOLLESEN  - drums


THE ALCHEMIST string quartet


MIKE PATTON - voice; JOHN MEDESKI  - fortepian; TREVOR DUNN - bass; JOEY BARON -drums

MARC RIBOT - guitar; JAMIE SAFT - keys; KENNY WOLLESEN  - vibes; TREVOR DUNN - bass; JOEY BARON - drums; CYRO BAPTISTA - percussion; JOHN ZORN -conducting

JOHN ZORN - sax, conducting, MARC RIBOT - guitar; JAMIE SAFT - keys; TREVOR DUNN - bass; JOEY BARON - drums; KENNY WOLLESEN  - drums; CYRO BAPTISTA - percussion; IKUE MORI - electronics

Sala Kongresowa. Warsaw Summer Jazz Days 2013. 15.07.2013

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