Review: A Tour Through the Hyperactive World of John Zorn - The New York Times
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https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/02/arts/music/review-john-zorn-national-sawdust.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fmusic
 
Review: A Tour Through the Hyperactive World of John Zorn
July 2, 2018
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John Zorn speaks to the audience during a concert of his works on Friday at National Sawdust in Brooklyn.Caitlin Ochs for The New York Times
When looking at John Zorn’s hyperactive release schedule on Tzadik, the record label he runs, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
Where to start? His recent pair of compositions for classical ensembles, or an album from his latest metal group? Oh, look: Last year’s book of tunes for small jazz comboseems to have attracted some of the best improvising players in the world. Perhaps it makes sense to select that other, also recent recording, the one that merges several of these stylistic inspirations — you know, for efficiency’s sake.
But the real fun comes from bingeing on several of Mr. Zorn’s projects at once. And something akin to this strategy seems to have guided the Brooklyn space National Sawdust, which hosted him for a three-concert stand this weekend. While the shows were tied to Sawdust’s Hildegard Month, with each program paying tribute to female artists, they also offered a compact yet substantive tour through Mr. Zorn’s many creative guises.
An early set on Friday was dominated by two recent classical works. In “Die Traumdeutung” (2017), composed for the Guggenheim Museum’s coming exhibitionof paintings by Hilma af Klint, the pianist Stephen Gosling and the violinist David Fulmer gave a glance at Mr. Zorn’s current approach to chamber music. His work in this idiom was once unsparing in its aggression, but there’s now more room for delicacy.
A similar spirit pervaded “Holy Visions,” a piece for female vocal quintet written in 2012 (and dedicated to Hildegard von Bingen). After languishing for a time in gleaming, early-music harmonies, the 20-minute composition moved with careful deliberation into some surprising new structures — embracing chattering, antiphonal complexity in some moments, and steadier Minimalist-inspired processes in others.
Technical difficulties kept projections of paintings by Mr. Zorn’s beloved Agnes Martin from accompanying “Through a Glass Darkly.” It stood on its own, thanks in large part to Mr. Zorn’s alto saxophone, more directly blues-influenced than I’d heard before, in a grandly sensitive performance with Brian Marsella on electric piano and three percussionists contributing polyrhythms on Haitian tanbou. (A slightly different version of the piece can be heard on Mr. Zorn’s latest album, “In A Convex Mirror.”)
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From left, Elizabeth Bates, Sarah Brailey, Eliza Bagg, Rachel Calloway and Kirsten Sollek perform Mr. Zorn’s “The Holy Voices.”Caitlin Ochs for The New York Times
Later on Friday, Mr. Zorn the saxophonist returned with some more familiar, siren-peal alto playing, offering a live soundtrack to Marie Menken’s 1964 short film “Go! Go! Go!” It was the middle in a trio of accompaniments to short works by women filmmakers central to the avant-garde tradition. Mr. Zorn’s frenetic ensemble was a perfect partner for the stop-motion blitz of Ms. Menken’s swing through New York.
Some of the same players participated in a live score for Maya Deren’s silent 1946 short “Ritual in Transfigured Time.” Mr. Zorn conducted with evident enthusiasm, eliciting some excitable trills from the cellist Erik Friedlander during a climactic, disorienting party scene. Equally attuned to the cinematic language on display was a final electronic performance by Ikue Mori — an intent Mr. Zorn perched at her side — as the filmmaker Raha Raissnia presented an untitled work over multiple projectors operating simultaneously. The airy, mystical music suited Ms. Raissnia’s dreamy collisions between grainy film stocks and the harder-edged contours of moving images on video.
What else was left for Mr. Zorn to cover? How about a revival of “Cobra” (1984), one of his most famous so-called “game” pieces? This collaborative work — based on some set rules regarding cue cards, hats and headbands — involves a “prompter” (who holds all those cards), as well as improvising musicians who can “pitch” various possibilities.
The anarchy of “Cobra” can suffer a bit on recordings. It’s far easier to appreciate the piece in a live setting, as you watch Mr. Zorn place and remove his hat, or excitedly point at subsections of performers. Yet the group of 12 female musicians who performed it on Saturday created such a memorable squall that it might communicate just as well over headphones.
The veteran electric harpist Zeena Parkins was often a key agent in the swirl: sometimes using a whammy bar on her idiosyncratic instrument as part of a punkish tutti section, or else providing shimmering textures alongside vibraphone work by Sae Hashimoto.
A killer duo emerged from the group at several points, when the guitarist Ava Mendoza joined with the drummer Kate Gentile. (You can hear Ms. Mendoza’s work in the group Unnatural Ways, and Ms. Gentile’s kinetic band leading on the recent album “Mannequins.”) Later, they added the cellist Okkyung Lee to their mix, and I began to hope that this trio might find time to record in a studio.
In one of the final “Cobra” pieces, a soprano voice emerged. But there was no vocalist in the lineup. After a moment, I identified it as an element coming from Annie Gosfield’s laptop — and the piercing coloratura motif as a sample from her own recent operatic adaptation of “The War of the Worlds.” This ghostly aria for an alien formed the basis of an ideal closing number for “Cobra”: unpredictable, otherworldly, joyous.
 
 
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