by carl wilson

Dreaming Out Loud: Zorn at Guelph

I didn't flip the word-producing, note-taking, signifyin' Critic Machine chip on in my head during yesterday's astounding double-feature matinee at the Guelph Jazz Festival featuring John Zorn's The Dreamers and Electric Masada. Sometimes all the humming and whirring of the analytic hard drive is just too much static in the ears. But it was truly one of the finest shows I've seen in years, and I think the finest I've ever seen in Guelph's handsome Riverrun auditorium.

The two ensembles had almost the same personnel - Marc Ribot (guitar), Jamie Saft (organs), Joey Baron (drums), Cyro Baptista (percussion), Trevor Dunn (bass) and Kenny Wollenson (percussion) - except that in Electric Masada they were joined by Ikue Mori on electronics, and Wollesen switched over from vibes to drum kit, making it a dual-drummer barrage. And, in Electric Masada, Zorn played his sax more (none of us could recall after if he'd played it at all in The Dreamers) - although he still let it rest much of the time in order to conduct, which he does with great charm and precision. Indeed watching him conduct was one of the great pleasures of the show - slamming down his fists to trigger an improvised-explosive blast of a group sforzando, or tapping the air with his knuckles to bring an abrupt pause, or stretching out a hand and giving a spidery come-on with his fingers to ask a player to give him more of what they were doing (at one point Mori, sitting a few inches from the bandleader, responded by wiggling her own fingers right back along his). But most of all it was just the fluid, unforced power of all these musicians, making this collective music like they were sailing a boat out to sea: As the rhythm section pulled their ropes tight, Ribot's guitar might rise cinemascope-style up into the sun; or when Saft's organ would move from harmonious vamping into a set of anxious amphetamine riffs, Baptista might reach into his seemingly wheelbarrow-sized stock of noisemakers and, say, shake a hula hoop covered in bells and gauze to hint that gentler waves would soon surface over the horizon.

I hadn't heard the recording of The Dreamers that came out this spring, but on the evidence of yesterday's show it's roughly in the mode of Zorn's popular 2001 album The Gift - surf-inflected, Morricone-refracted, post-lounge with beautifully concise head melodies played mostly on the guitar and vibes, never going so far out as to get skronky or violent. But that was what E-Masada was for, of course, and by the end of that second hour-plus, Zorn and his companions had taken us on a musical tour through so many emotional weather regions that it felt thoroughly, classically cathartic, as if we had all vaulted together through a purgative sonic-obstacle course for the soul. The Guelph crowd repaid their efforts with two standing ovations and screams of rapture, and after an encore (a few tunes from the aforementioned Gift), the band seemed to leave the stage feeling very pleased with their day's work, arms slung around one another's shoulders, chatting amiably as they vanished into the wings.

General | Posted by zoilus on Monday, September 08 at 5:13 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)



I saw John Zorn play/conduct at the Ashkenaz festivak about ten years ago. I had never seen him, and attended reluctantly. It was a life-changing show, for me; revealed not just what music could be, but what dance could be, and theatre should be. It was live performance beyond music. Very gratifying to read your account of this recent show.

Posted by Jane on September 11, 2008 7:47 AM



Thanx: korrekted!

Posted by zoilus on September 9, 2008 12:41 PM



Or... it could be Wollesen instead. That's how Downtownmusic spelled it.

Posted by Half on September 9, 2008 12:15 PM



Hi Carl, It's actually Kenny Wolleson with no n. I wish I had been there. I love the double drumming, quadruple percussing of Electric Masada.

Posted by Half on September 9, 2008 12:07 PM



Beautifully summarized. I had been trying to articulate why I felt so emotional after that show, and I think you nailed it: it was indeed thoroughly cathartic. But I felt buoyed at the end too, and floated peacefully home. A big Masada fan, I know all those compositions inside and out, but they became something else entirely (a living, breathing thing) in that room. Best show I've seen in ages.

Posted by caitlin on September 8, 2008 9:14 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson