Saturday, August 23, 2008

StLJN Saturday Video Showcase:
A John Zorn sampler

Saxophonist, composer and musical provocateur John Zorn's connection to St. Louis was relatively short-lived, as he spent a little over a year here in the 1970s attending Webster University (then known as Webster College). Some of Zorn's musical and presentational proclivities were becoming evident even then; one local musician I know recalls playing with him at a local coffeehouse in a free-jazz jam session that Zorn directed with a series of visual cues and gestures. That same musician recalled Zorn sporting some unusual facial hair for a while - specifically, a half-mustache on one side of his face, with a half-goatee on the opposite side, the net effect being a division of the lower half of the face into a sort of quadrant arrangement.

Make of that what you will, and it's hard to say exactly what Zorn may have taken away from his time in St. Louis, though it wasn't long after living here that he moved to New York, arriving as NYC's loft jazz scene of the 1970s was winding down and the downtown new music scene that would become prominent in the 1980s was getting started. Since then Zorn has become an almost absurdly prolific composer, improviser, and record company proprietor, releasing dozens of CDs on his Tzadik label and traveling the world to perform in a seemingly endless stream of varied musical projects.

Today, via the magic of YouTube, we'll take a look at a small sample of Zorn's diverse body of work. The first clip was recorded in November 1994 at Jazzfestival Hamburg (Germany) and features the acoustic version of Zorn's Masada ensemble with Zorn, Dave Douglas on trumpet, Greg Cohen on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums performing the composition is "Sheloshim."

The second clip is from a gig in February 2008 at St. Ann's Warehouse in NYC. It shows a performance of "Makahaa (Reprise)" from the album The Gift, delivered by a group including Zorn, Trevor Dunn (bass), Marc Ribot (guitar), Jamie Soft (organ), Cyro Baptista (percussion), Joey Baron (drums) and Wollesen. The footage is shaky in spots, but the sound is listenable and so, as one of the more recent visual documents of Zorn's work available online, it seemed worth including.

Down below are a couple of clips related to one of Zorn's signature pieces, the performance/musical game "Cobra." The first video was recorded in January 2008 at the Barbi Club in Tel Aviv, Israel during a festival devoted to Zorn's music, and shows him playing "Cobra" with a a group including Baron, Wollesen, Ribot, Dunn, Baptista, Ikue Mori, Jean Claude Jones and others. The second clip is from a documentary called On the Edge: Improvisation in music, and focuses on Zorn prompting a game of "Cobra," providing a bit of additional insight into how the piece works in practice.

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