NEW YORK As his performances progressed at the Symphony
Space theater Wednesday, John Zorn
grew in stature.
The New York JVC Jazz Festival concert presented the Music of Masada,
which is based on traditional Jewish folk music, in three different
forms, each placing Zorn at different heights. First he sat cross-legged
at the edge of the stage to conduct the Masada
String Trio; then he sat in a chair to direct
COLOR="#003163">Bar Kokhba, his six-piece ensemble; and
finally he stood to play his alto sax with the
"Great to hear Jewish music moved to the next level, using traditional
Jewish music with jazz," said Brian Oesereich, 27, of Brooklyn, N.Y.,
upon seeing Zorn perform for the first time.
Dressed in his customary camouflage cargo pants and T-shirt, Zorn seemed relaxed as he conducted the string trio. Playing music from the group's CD The Circle Maker such as "Tahah,"
COLOR="#003163">Mark Feldman COLOR="#003163">Erik Freidlander COLOR="#003163">Greg Cohen
COLOR="#003163">Mark Feldman's violin,
COLOR="#003163">Erik Freidlander's cello and
COLOR="#003163">Greg Cohen's acoustic bass came together as
one voice. Zorn's beautiful compositions enabled the musicians to make
use of their abundant skills.
Zorn has been working with Jewish music sources for many years now, and
his connection with something ancient and profound has grown deeper.
It's impossible to listen to this music and not be moved, and this was
true of audience and performers alike. As Feldman's reeling violin and
Freidlander's cello evoked dances of yore while Cohen's bass provided
the grounding, all exchanged smiles and looks of wonderment.
Bar Kokhba, featuring Marc Ribot on
guitar, Joey Baron on drums and
Cyro Baptista on percussion, along
with the three string players, performed next, and the music expanded.
Baptista, sporting a devilish goatee, mischievously sprinkled in all
types of percussion, from small bells to a type of amplified glass
gourd, for spice and depth.
Again drawing on material from The Circle Maker such as "Lilin,"
a haunting piece featuring a simple repeated violin phase, the sextet
moved the music closer to modern times. With Ribot's blues-based,
slightly distorted single-note electric guitar playing, the music
couldn't help but feel current. And with Baptista and Baron handling
rhythm, Cohen was able to showcase a more melodic side of the bass.
The Masada Quartet is Zorn's defining work as a jazz musician. The group configuration Zorn on alto sax, Dave Douglas on trumpet, Cohen on bass and Baron on drums is the same as the great Ornette
Coleman's groundbreaking pianoless quartet, and comparisons
are unavoidable. Playing with a freedom not heard earlier in the
evening, Zorn used a series of vibrating squeals to drive the music into uncharted terrain.
Baron used sticks, brushes, mallets and his hands on the drums during a
tune. Cohen, whom Zorn called "the man of the evening" for appearing in
all three ensembles, was flawless.
Thirty minutes into the set things really started to heat up as Zorn
launched into a stunning extended alto exploration. Using the full range of his horn, Zorn carefully crafted his solo until it reached a
breathtaking climax. It was a reminder that Zorn, in addition to being a first-rate composer and bandleader, has few peers on the alto.
Douglas followed with an equally well-played solo based on a modified
version of the same theme. Unfortunately, after a mere 45 minutes, the
music ended promptly at 11 p.m., leaving the crowd eager for more.