Although weary and half-burned-out like a mad march hare, music lovers’ hunger for more of composer John Zorn remained strong through to the final weekend of the Adelaide Festival.
First up on the Zorn @ 60 concert program at the Festival Theatre was The Song Project, featuring various Zorn material and arrangements and three very different vocalists.
It was a typically Zorn contrast of styles: death-zombie-vocal-athletics-mode Mike Patton (Faith No More, Mr Bungle, Fantomas) screaming and grunting through choreographed jazz-grind surf workouts; smooth caressing jazz featuring the sultry yearning of Sofia Rei, sometimes harmonising with Patton in croon mode, followed by the ultra-smooth easy listening of Jesse Harris.
Despite “General” Patton’s understated entrance, it took just seconds for him to put on game face, assume the position and burst into Naked City’s “Batman”, on the end of Zorn’s chain.
Next, Trevor Dunn (Mr Bungle), Kenny Wollesen and Stephen Gosling brought Illuminations to bear, a thundering free jazz threesome which arrived skilfully in that special zone between deranged high speed and hypnotic stasis.
John Zorn’s sonic hopscotch continued with The Holy Visions, a playful yet stern group of female vocalists who are equally radiant, heady and jarring. The craft of these alarm-sirens could have been named Afterlife of the Valkyries, their spirits trapped in a cathedral built on an ancient Pagan burial site. Despite their wealth of talent, though, this piece seemed rather divergent from the personal true grit of the majority of Zorn’s herd.
Then the classical world’s murky edge suddenly dropped off into something deeper. There was no guide as we forged into the unknown with The Alchemist (Elision Ensemble), a string quartet of hellish extravagance; jabs of emotive melody were lost in a cacophonous and prickly intrigue. This piece was actually bodily disturbing, it haunted right into me, as if I were creeping up to a strangely mutilated corpse in an Edgar Allan Poe story. Shredded horse hairs hung from their bows at the end like a scene from one of Vlad the Impaler’s banquets.
Another interval slipped through, delivering Moonchild to the stage. Mike Patton (vocals), Trevor Dunn (bass), John Medeski (organ) and Joey Baron (drums) clawed through Templars: In Sacred Blood, a Mass-like ritual of the Knights Templar, crusade knights rumoured to have begun worshipping Baphomet, the androgynous goat deity.
Planes of mood organ interspersed with visceral metal bursts set the bi-polar disposition of the piece, a disturbing mix of spiritual sustain and ultra-violent battle-rush, like two magnets rejecting contact but forced to touch by a greater external force. Patton shifted between baritone vocals, spoken word and screams carried over by his trademark sting-like-a-bee stage antics.
The Dreamers U-turned back into clean exotica vibes, clearing the deck for the return of The Electric Masada and the addition of Ikue Mori to the stage. Mori’s computer tossed out electronic halos, crowning the building ensemble with tape reels, lo-fi percussion and obscure-Star-Wars-alien speech stutters. At times, Zorn’s turns on the sax coupled with the percussive work of Cyro Baptista created what could only be christened “rainforest noir”.
No one on stage had ideas above their station. They all seemed present and correct as extremely individual dew-glinted strands in Zorn’s web which he orchestrated with artful and humorous guile, not picking up his sax until the finale.
Zorn @ 60 swung between precisely organised catastrophes and the kind of music the cover of Throbbing Gristle’s 20 Jazz Funk Greats album might promise to the uninitiated.
Zorn @ 60 was the final in a series of John Zorn concerts on the program of the Adelaide Festival, which has now finished.
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