Review: Three's A Charm For John Zorn At JVC Festival

Composer/conductor/saxophonist presents his Masada music in three different bands.

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

COLOR="#003163">Masada Quartet.

"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'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.