Review: Masada Marathon at Nublu (12/4/14)

So, I’ve seen a lot of Masada Marathons. I’ve lost count, really – three nights in Rome, Montreal Jazz Fest, NYC Opera, two nights at the Abrons, Book of Beriah at Town Hall, twelve sets at the Vanguard, Nublu (twice now), the Skirball Center, 92nd Street Y… it’s a long list. But even with all that competition, this little mini-marathon (we have to call a 6-hour set a mini-marathon because it was “only” five bands, right?) probably wins the top spot for the weirdest Masada show I’ve been to as well as featuring one of the best Masada sets I’ve ever seen. It was a hell of a night!

The night started out worryingly slow – the first set (Uri Gurvich Quartet) was at 8, and I showed up about 2 minutes before 8 to find that the place was almost entirely empty. Uh-oh! I had suspected it was going to be a tough night – Marc Ribot was playing at the same time in Brooklyn, Henry Threadgill was playing at the same time, Jon Madof was down the street at the Stone… a lot of competition for the type of audience that might come to a show like this. Not to mention that people were worried about transportation and other issues due to heavy protests around the city… it had taken me almost twice as long as usual to get home from the Stone the night before.

People did trickle in and when they finally started the set, about 20 minutes late, there was a little bit of an audience forming. Uri Gurvich’s quartet was the first band and I’m happy to say I found their set to be a lot more fun than the other time I saw them. I think they played better, and I think they’re better suited to play first and gently warm up an audience than they are to play after a really raucous band like they did at the Vanguard.

The second set of the night was Erik Friedlander playing a solo “Volac” set. Always a favorite of mine, and he somehow managed to outdo himself again. (How good can “Volac” get? Shouldn’t there be some kind of upper limit on how good you can make the same piece of music? It’s beginning to defy logic at this point.) There was a bit of a bigger audience by this point in the evening, although in the way of crowds everywhere they were lurking in the back, not wanting to appear too eager. My friend Tom and I had no such misgivings and eagerly parked ourselves front and center in the middle of the floor. Nublu is a pretty small and intimate space for this kind of concert (it somehow felt much more so than the Vanguard, maybe because of the tiny stage?). It felt like a very special moment, with the nearly dead-silent audience, the intimate atmosphere, and music that I need to invent new superlatives for. I had fleeting thoughts that it should be recorded for posterity, but the moment was too perfect and I didn’t dare break it by pulling out a camera to sneak a video or even a photo. Sometimes even an obsessive concert documentarian has to just let things be.
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Concert review: John Zorn’s Masada Book Three: Book of Beriah – part one (3/19/2014)

When John Zorn announced back in January that he was doing a live premiere of a third Masada book, I was… excited. I was very excited. I immediately booked a train and hotel and started trying to convince everyone I know to come with me. I had my browser refreshing to get a ticket the second they went on sale (sadly, that turned out to be kind of a bust since all the best seats were reserved for the musicians and their plus-ones – oh well). Zorn’s Masada compositions were my introduction to his work and they opened up a whole new world of music to me that I’d never been exposed to before. The second book of Masada, the Book of Angels, contains some of my absolute favorite music, and I’ve religiously collected all twenty volumes to date. We’ve been hearing rumors for the last couple of years that the Book of Angels was drawing to a close, so the announcement of a third book was thrilling for me. A temporary reprieve, as it were.

It’s unclear what form the third book will take – Zorn told us early in the show that the book would consist of “92 tunes which will be played by 92 different ensembles,” which is pretty amazing in and of itself. I don’t know if they’re planning to record them in the studio and release them (maybe in a box set?) or just to do concerts; hopefully both, and hopefully I’ll be able to see them all! He also mentioned one final piece to close the book, which would be a longer piece that he would do in the studio after book three is finished.

Wednesday night’s concert premiered 20 of the 92 tunes, with 20 different ensembles or soloists – most of them were either pre-existing bands (Zion80, Secret Chiefs 3, Cleric, etc.) or variations on existing ensembles (e.g., the Merkaba Quartet, the Aleph Quartet, Mephisto). Quite a few of them have already created albums for the Book of Angels series, so they were no strangers to the Masada universe (or working with Zorn, which I imagine is a rather unique experience for most musicians).

Usually for a show with so many bands I would just pick a few favorites, but I think I have to go against my better blogger instincts and write up most of them – I’m only skipping a couple that just weren’t my style. Nothing against the few bands I’m passing over, some of them were just not my scene at all (on both ends of the spectrum – too aggressive, or not aggressive enough…).

It’s possible that the very first piece was my favorite one out of the whole night. The arrangement was by violist Eyvind Kang, and the performers were Eyvind Kang (viola); Mark Feldman (violin); Timba Harris (violin); Erik Friedlander (cello); Shanir Blumenkranz (bass); Hidayat Honari (tar); Ches Smith (drums) and Frank London (trumpet). It was melodic and beautiful, with lots of drama and emotion. Lots of klezmer influence from Frank London’s trumpet playing, and the strings just sounded incredible. I actually wish they hadn’t put this band on first, because it was so good and I wasn’t ready for it to be that good yet – I needed them to ease me into things a bit more. (Although this probably was Zorn’s idea of easing us into the show, now that I think about it.) Kang’s Book of Angels album, Alastor, is being released in a few weeks, and after hearing this ensemble I can’t wait to hear it. I’m not sure if the same ensemble is on the album, but he clearly has some affinity with this music and I’m sure he has done a great job with it.

Mark-kang(Eyvind Kang’s ensemble. Photo courtesy of Mark Kirschbaum)

The next piece was a quick three-minute hit from (more…)

Concert(s) Review: John Zorn’s Song Project & Moonchild (9/29/2013)

Sunday night was (sadly) the last night of my New York Zorn@60 adventure – and it was the end of a rather remarkable run of shows for me. I ended up going to 18 concerts in September, 10 of which were Zorn@60 events. (I didn’t have a chance to write about some of the shows, unfortunately – it’s hard to combine that level of concert attendance with a full-time job, travel and blogging.) I was a little worried that after the big blowout week of music we’d just seen, this night would be a bit of a let-down, because I have kind of mixed feelings about both projects. But I’m not the sort of person who would skip a Zorn concert (under pretty much any circumstances you can think of) so I went along and hoped for the best.

Both of the concerts on Sunday were at Le Poisson Rouge, a venue I really like in Greenwich Village. The early set was the Song Project, which is more-or-less the Dreamers with a replacement keyboard player (John Medeski instead of Jamie Saft) with the addition of a few vocalists. The full band line-up: John Zorn (conducting), Marc Ribot (guitar), Kenny Wollesen (vibes), Trevor Dunn (bass), Cyro Baptista (percussion), Joey Baron (drums), and John Medeski on keys. The vocalists were Mike Patton, Jesse Harris, and Sofia Rei. They play some Dreamers material, but they also play a bunch of other stuff ranging anywhere from Filmworks to Naked City.

The reason I have mixed feelings about the group is that (more…)

Concert review: John Zorn’s Metropolitan Museum Marathon (9/28/2013)

I’ve been to a number of concerts that called themselves “marathons.” I’ve been to all-day festivals. I’ve been to multiple concerts in one night (sometimes in two different cities). I’ve even been to a couple of Zorn marathons in museums. But this? This beat them all. Twelve sets over ten and a half hours, from the minute the museum doors opened to the time it closed. Each one in a different room, paired with or inspired by a particular piece of art or architecture. I suspect this is a record that will never be broken (for the sake of my health, if nothing else!). In short, this was The Big One. I had been so excited about it in advance that I’d researched the locations and created an overlay on a map of the museum with a list of performances and times, so I could print it out and know where everything was without having to figure it out on the day of the show. And if you think THAT is obsessive, you probably don’t want to know about the “Zorn Reconnaissance Mission” that I went on with a friend a few days earlier to check out all the rooms, view the art in advance, figure out the best viewing angles, acoustics, etc. (I’d learned from ZoRN@MoMA that it was actually quite difficult to appreciate the artwork on the day of the performances, since the rooms were so crowded that you often couldn’t get near the piece in question.) We were well-prepared and determined to eke out every last drop of the experience.

We showed up at 9:30 in the morning to be at the front of the line for a 10AM performance, and the music didn’t end until 8:30 at night, eleven hours after we arrived. We saw fourteen separate performances. I made it through the entire day on a few granola bars and water. I had gone in with the idea that I would have a nice sit-down lunch break and skip a performance just to keep myself sane, but in the end I never got desperate enough to do it and I just pushed through the whole day.

We entered the museum within seconds of the doors opening at ten o’clock, knowing that there was a trumpet fanfare (Opening Antiphonal Fanfare for Six Trumpets) planned for 10AM in the entrance hall. We didn’t know exactly where it would be, so as we picked up our tickets we were distractedly looking around everywhere for evidence of trumpet players. I didn’t see any, but did spot John Zorn, Erik Friedlander (who was scheduled for an 11AM solo performance) and a bevy of museum staff members wearing “ZORN AT THE MET” T-shirts. I also spotted a few friends, some of whom would be joining us for the entire day and some who just wanted to see a couple of events in the morning. We anxiously milled around, waiting, wondering if we should move on to the Temple of Dendur where there was a performance scheduled at 10:15. But we figured as long as John Zorn was in the room, we probably wouldn’t miss anything. I think they realized that there was a long line of people outside and they should wait until everyone was in the room before starting the fanfare, so as not to disappoint the fans who had been waiting.

Finally at 10:08AM, we heard (more…)

Concert Review: Zorn@60 at Gent Jazz Festival (7/14/2013)

Today’s concert review was written by our esteemed Belgian music correspondent, Bjorn Weynants. I’m posting this video of excerpts from the show here at the top so you can listen while you read! – Sarah V.


When it was announced that John Zorn would do a world tour with his “Zorn@60″ celebration, it came as no surprise that a Belgian stop at the Gent Jazz festival was included. After all, John Zorn has been a popular guest at this festival and its sister-festival Jazz Middelheim (which has the same organisers). You may be familiar with the live album by the original Masada Quartet Live in Middelheim 1999. The (multi-day) Gent Jazz festival takes place at the Bijloke site in the city of Ghent, which is a former hospital/abbey that has been beautifully converted into a museum/music centre, with a tent in the gardens where the concerts take place.

Apart from the “classic” Zorn@60 line-up on the main stage, we did get some extra (Zorn-related) concerts at a second – much smaller – Garden Stage. The concept behind Zorn@60 was not to look back at Zorn’s career thus far (he is not the type of musician to look back at what he did in the past), but rather to give an idea of what he is doing right now musically, at the age of 60.

The opening act was the Song Project, a new project. The central idea behind it was to write lyrics to a selection of Zorn songs, lyrics written by the likes of Sean Lennon, Laurie Anderson, Mike Patton and others. Three singers were present: Mike Patton (of Moonchild and Faith No More fame), Sofia Rei (from Mycale) and Jesse Harris (songwriting collaborator of Norah Jones). The backing was done by a band (directed by Zorn) which was basically The Dreamers, but with John Medeski instead of Jamie Saft on piano. A wide selection out of Zorn’s oeuvre was played: from Naked City to The Concealed (The Road to Kafaristan) to the Book of Angels (Dalquiel).

It will come as no surprise that (more…)