We were heading into our eighth hour at the Walker Art Center when the third concert of the Zorn@60 marathon was set to begin. There was some sort of delay (we were too far back in the line to hear the cause) and we ended up waiting for a while in a line stretching down the stairwell and into the bar/restaurant area. Eventually, they let us into the McGuire Theater for the third time that day and the concert started relatively quickly.
The main part of this set was music from “The Concealed” and “Nova Express,” which were both released within the past two years. Nova Express was performed by John Medeski (piano), Greg Cohen (bass), Kenny Wollesen (vibes), and Joey Baron (drums). The Concealed was the same quartet with two more players added: Mark Feldman on violin and Erik Friedlander on cello. Apparently Zorn thinks of these two projects as being very closely related; he mixed the pieces together into a single set, with the strings having a little break during the Nova Express pieces.
I was especially interested to hear The Concealed in a live setting, since it was one of my favorite recent Zorn releases and has only rarely been performed live (just once or twice, I think). Naturally, as a new ensemble, they were not as masterful as the bands we’d just seen who had been playing together for a decade and a half – that wouldn’t really be a fair expectation. But the music is brilliant and the musicians are all top-notch, so we still got a very worthy performance. I was pleased that they played my favorite track from the album, Towards Kafiristan – I just love Medeski’s piano on this piece. And, as you might have guessed, I filmed it for you:
Nova Express is not necessarily one of my favorite albums to listen to, but I enjoyed it more live than on CD. The less melodic pieces were a lot of fun to watch, especially Kenny Wollesen on vibes. There is one track on it that I loved from the first time I heard it, called Between Two Worlds; I lucked out and this was one of the few Nova Express tunes they played. And, yes – I filmed it!
(Note: I will have a couple more videos from this event going up on my Youtube channel in the next couple of days, but they won’t be posted here on the blog – so keep an eye out on Youtube if you want to see them!)
There had been a little bit of back-and-forth between John Zorn and an unnamed audience member (I’ll be nice and not call him a heckler) earlier in the set; the audience member had demanded to know the whereabouts of John Zorn’s saxophone, at which point Zorn got a little pissed off and said something along the lines of “It’s at home, motherfucker!” Luckily, he was just saying that to give the ungrateful bastard in the audience a hard time. 😉 I really sympathize with Zorn on this one – while he is of course an excellent saxophone player, his best and most important work (in my opinion) is his work as a composer. Being heckled about playing the saxophone immediately after showcasing hours of brilliant composition is absolutely obnoxious.
It wasn’t listed on the program, so it was a nice surprise to get a performance by the Aleph Trio as an encore. I’d seen bands who were supposed to be the Aleph Trio before, but they always turned out to be more like John Zorn and whoever else felt like coming on stage to play something fun. This time it was the real-deal Aleph Trio: John Zorn (alto sax), Greg Cohen (bass), and Kenny Wollesen (drums) playing a live soundtrack to Wallace Berman’s film “Aleph,” which was screened behind the band after Zorn had the venue turn all the lights out. It was loud, fast and wild, and I’m guessing it was at least mostly improvised (although you really can’t tell sometimes with Zorn’s compositions!). I didn’t record any of it since they’d turned all the lights out, but I can tell you it was an extremely intense experience between the music and the ultra-fast-cut style film.
At the end of the concert, we were planning to head across the street and get in line for the final event of the night, a solo pipe organ recital by John Zorn at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral. The three of us who had been sitting in rows A and C found each other, but the fourth member of our crew was nowhere to be seen. We figured he might be waiting for us upstairs and began the slow shuffle out of the venue with the rest of the crowd. After a few minutes slowly working our way out, we received a text from our missing friend – he had managed to beat the crowd out the door, race across the street and get one of the first spots in line at the cathedral, where he was planning to save us some good seats. Ten hours into our concert marathon, and still gunning for the good seats – my friends are so badass!
After a bit of a wait at the cathedral, they let us into the main seating area. We got a great spot close-but-not-too-close to the pipes and with a clear line of sight to the blurry silhouette of John Zorn (pipe organs don’t really lend themselves to watching the performer). The church was pretty packed, even though it was midnight and many of us had been at the Walker since lunchtime. I’d heard Zorn perform on a pipe organ once before (which was actually the performance that was recorded and released as “The Hermetic Organ”) and I think I preferred this performance to the first one – it was more interesting. He explored a full range of sounds, all the way from a deep bass rumble that made parts of the building rattle to the most delicate chimes. It was a sort of meditative way to end such a long, full day – with nothing much to look at, we could just sit back, relax, and let the music soak in.
I do have to say – after hearing two improvised performances, I would absolutely love to see Zorn do some fully composed pieces for pipe organ. I think he could do something really incredible. I’m not sure it’s an instrument that can be fully explored with improvisation.
John Zorn has an unusual number of performances scheduled for this year, and I would strongly suggest that if you are interested in seeing him, you find a way to get to one or more of these shows. It’s likely we’ll not see this kind of schedule out of him for another ten years, if ever. He will be in New York (of course), Europe, Canada, South America, and new events are being added regularly. You can find a complete and up-to-date listing of his performances on his nearly-official Facebook page.