Zorn goes epic in Oz

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John Zorn
was on display here in Adelaide, Australia for four consecutive nights at the Adelaide Festival Theatre, over 13 hours, a staggering array of musicians, not to mention musical genres. The concerts came to fruition after Adelaide director David Sefton asked Zorn what would get him to Australia. He told the director four concerts in four consecutive nights and that the programme had to be exactly what Zorn wanted. The director simply agreed and so was born these epic concerts.

With Zorn came all the usual suspects: Dave Douglas, Joey Baron, Marc Ribot, John Medeski, Mark Feldman, Eric Friedlander, Jamie Saft el at, over 40 of New York’s finest, not to mention a massive symphony orchestra and sundry musicians. The first night was dedicated to the ‘Masada Marathon’, 12 configurations over nearly four hours, kicking off with the Masada Quartet and concluding with ‘Electric Masada’, via ‘Banquet of the Spirits’, ‘Bar Kokhka’, ‘The Dreamers’ and Eric Friedlander, solo. There were highlights aplenty, the hard rock of ‘Abraxas’, Uri Caine’s superb solo set, Friedlander’s stunning solo and ‘The Dreamers’ featuring Marc Ribot, despite perpetually looking at the floor!

What was also evident was the sheer joy everyone demonstrated. Aside from putting on a master class, drummer Joey Baron just couldn’t keep the smile off his face. Indeed it remained until after the last concert when he told me that he just loved everything about these shows. Following the second night of classical music, jazz returned with a bang. Titled ‘Triple Bill’, it kicked off with the avant rock of Bladerunner, comprised of bassist Bill Laswell, Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo and Zorn himself (pictured below). If the audience thought this was loud enough, Mike Patton joined in the mayhem for the last onslaught. Essential Cinema followed four films four more groups. This reviewer found it disconcerting to hear the band but not be able to see them, but that is the whole point of the exercise.

The last of the Triple Bill was Cobra that while difficult to appreciate on disc, is a different story live. A dozen musicians in a semi circle with Zorn in the middle standing at a table, flashing cards to selected musicians to play a particular theme. Occasionally he would don a cap, a signal that he would choose someone to pick the musicians for the next section. A dozen hands would shoot into the air, like schoolboys, as if to say “pick me, pick me”! Despite all this going on, the weird sounds continued.

The final night was the last of Zorn’s ‘Zorn At 60’ series. The opening Song Project was outstanding, the sheer physicality of Patton’s vocals were offset by the beauty of Sofia Rei and the soft tones of Jesse Harris. Following a few excellent classical pieces, Moonchild really cranked up the volume and the energy levels, Joey Baron proving he can play heavy rock with the best of them while Patton exhibited sheer vocal power.

The whole event wound up with a jaw-dropping performance from The Dreamers and a very powerful set from Electric Masada at nearly five hours this was not a show for the fainthearted. Some special mentions must firstly go to bassist Trevor Dunn who displayed not only incredible skills but an ability to play, well, anything brilliantly. Marc Ribot made it clear that he is in a class of his own; Kenny Wollesen is not only a master vibest but can keep up with Baron in the drum department, while Jamie Saft and Cyro Baptista simply ooze class.

Throughout Zorn was in total control, promoting, encouraging and urging more from his bands and the respect he commands was duly rewarded.

– Michael Prescott

– Photos by Tony Lewis courtesy the Adelaide Festival