NEW YORK — Tonic, a hip Lower East Side venue, was the scene of a pair of unique performances Monday night by musicians including Cibo Matto,
COLOR="#003163">Money Mark, Sean
Lennon and Arto Lindsay.
The evening, dubbed "Cibo Matto presents John
Zorn's Hip Hop Cobra," was an experimental jam-fest, reined in by what can only be called structured chaos. There were as many as 11 musicians onstage at once, conveying messages to one another by flashing hand signals, putting on and taking off hats and headbands, and throwing their arms in the air. To the casual observer it may have
appeared silly, but there was a method to the madness.
"Basically, there's a set of rules that are like the parameters within which you can make the music," explained Lennon, who performed on electric bass. "But then there's the 'guerilla tactics,' which are
ways of subverting those rules. And that's when you put the hat on, and you raise your fist and you say, 'I'm a guerilla,' and at that point you can basically go against all the rules."
Cobra is the invention of veteran avant-garde jazz musician John Zorn, one of what he calls his "game
pieces," dating back to the early '80s. Each performance, or game, features a different set of musicians who follow signals from a conductor who holds up colored cards to signify different actions. In
this case, the conductor was Zorn himself.
"Cibo Matto was asked to do a Cobra," Lennon said, "and because [bandmember] Yuka [
COLOR="#003163">Honda] is friends with Zorn, she asked him
if he would conduct, which kind of made it a big deal, because Zorn invented Cobra and is therefore the best conductor. He rarely does it, too, so it's an honor to have him conduct the game he invented."
The event was originally scheduled to take place at the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage on Friday, but was rescheduled "due to circumstances beyond
anyone's control," according to a press release. As a result, Cibo Matto and Zorn could invite performers who hadn't been approached as of last week, including DJ Toshiro Kajiwara, who was asked to join the day of the show. Learning the rules so quickly and trying to keep up was confusing, Kajiwara said, but it didn't take away from the fun.
"We just asked some people to play," Lennon said. "It was kind of last minute with Mark, because he just happened to be here rehearsing. It just came together."
"John gave me a published list of what the rules are, so I studied that in one day, and kind of practiced with Cibo Matto and whoever else jumped onstage who knew the rules," said Money Mark (born Mark Ramos Nishita) between the evening's two sets. "We did a sound check where we went over the rules, and we may have played the game twice — just a short game, so we wouldn't spoil the spontaneity of the performance."
Mixing It Live
As for Zorn's role as conductor, Nishita said, "He's manipulating the music; you could say he's mixing the music live. ... But we can all do that. He just has to be the mediator."
The range of music produced bounded from live drum & bass to hard-edged instrumental hip-hop to funk to a cappella vocal exchanges between Lindsay (who only performed during the first set) and Cibo Matto members Miho Hatori and Duma Love.
Cibo Matto's second album, last year's Stereo Type A, featured the song "Sci-Fi Wasabi" (RealAudio excerpt). Lennon's 1998 debut, Into the Sun, contained the song "Spaceship" (
Other performers included Soul Coughing's Sebastian Steinberg on upright bass, Ben Perowsky on
drums, beatboxer Afra and Cibo Matto drummer Timo Ellis.
In the end, despite the constant sense of focus and determination emanating from the stage, smiles and laughter resonated as much as, if not more than, the constantly shifting musical montages that washed over the room.
"The great thing," Nishita said, "is that people know it's a game and that anything can happen. There's really no pressure."
"It's totally, totally fun," Lennon said. "In fact, it's so much fun, I'm worried that we're having more fun than the audience."