Fans of Medeski Martin & Wood may or may not be aware that the band is about to release Zaebos - Book of Angels Volume 11‚ a new album featuring MMW playing material written by the ubiquitous experimental jazz composer and player John Zorn. As the title suggests the album marks the eleventh installment in the Book of Angels series. Each volume‚ named after a spiritual entity from the Jewish or Kabbalah tradition‚ features a different group playing Zorn compositions.
If that sounds a little heavy‚ Zorn definitely can be. While I imagine MMW fans (myself very much included) will be quite happy with Zaebos‚ many people find listening to some of Zorn's work… a bit of a challenge (myself once again included).
I set out to see John Zorn's Cobra play the opening set of a night of music sponsored by the Issue Project Room‚ a Brooklyn venue dedicated to experimental music. I was lured to the show by the price tag (free show!) and the cool setting of a make-shift venue at the Brooklyn Bridge Park. With stunning water-level views of Manhattan‚ not to mention those crazy waterfalls‚ it was a great backdrop to enjoy live music.
That night Zorn did not play his trademark "screeching" saxophone. Instead he hopped down to audience level in front of the bandstand and conducted using a series of hand gestures and big‚ marker-on-paper signs. The conducting seemed somewhat democratic as band members would also make hand gestures at another‚ suggesting where the music should go.
For the most part - the music didn't go far. To the untrained ear (mine) the musicians seemed to simply be taking turns making intentionally loud‚ unruly and sloppy noises. The sound‚ as well as the stage itself‚ was crowded with ten musicians (horns‚ strings‚ drums‚ guitars‚ laptops oh my!) and was bracingly loud. An example:
At one point a little girl who was sitting near me took advantage of a brief break in the noise to announce "this music scares me!" I sympathized with the girl‚ and also wondered what her parents were thinking by dragging their kids to this kind of show.
To be fair‚ much of the audience seemed to really enjoy the performance‚ and I know I should not be complaining about free entertainment.
There is also plenty of Zorn out there that I love. A friend recently introduced me to Lucifer: Book of Angels Volume 10‚ an album much easier on my ears than the Cobra show. I also highly recommend the albums The Dreamers and The Gift‚ a two-part series that ditches the noise in favor of beautiful compositions that at times sound close to surf-rock. Zorn himself plays very little on all three of these albums‚ instead leaving room for guitar virtuoso Marc Ribot‚ celebrated pianist Jamie Saft and a crew of many other master musicians.
So I guess my point is while the music may at times be scary‚ you don't always have to be afraid of John Zorn.
Link to pre-order: MMW- Zaebos: Book of AngelsVolume 11