Adelaide Festival Review: Zorn in Oz: Masada Marathon

Zorn in Oz

Masada Marathon was the first of four massive shows by John Zorn and his extraordinary group of friends. Zorn on alto saxophone had us from the get-go.

Zorn in Oz
Presented by Adelaide Festival
Reviewed 11 March 2014

Masada Marathon was the first of four massive shows by John Zorn and his extraordinary group of friends. Zorn on alto saxophone had us from the get-go when his Masada Quartet kicked off with Dave Douglas (trumpet), Greg Cohen (bass) and Joey Baron (drums). In the midst of cracking jazz-fusion, Zorn threw in some sax-made chicken and yelping puppy noises, held an unreasonably long sostenuto, and muted his sax with his leg. Not your average opening act.

The pace changed as duo Mark Feldman (violin) and Uri Caine (piano), aka Malphas, left no doubt about the Judaic origins of influence in Zorn’s songbooks or their technical prowess. Next, the tremendous quartet Banquet of the Spirits served up whimsy and delight as Tim Keiper opened with the sound of a chain dropping on his drum kit… by doing just that. Cyro Baptista delved into his seemingly TARDIS-like bag of tricks, producing all manner of percussion including a “whirly”, while Shanir Blumenkranz provided stunning timbre, switching effortlessly between bass, oud and gimbri as Brian Marsella worked his keyboard magic.

Mycale presented like celestial nymphs of mythology, (or Zorn’s delightful and much-improved version of the Spice Girls). The radiant quartet, Noemi Liba (subbed for Ayelet Gottlieb), Sofia Rei, Sara Serpa, and Malika Zarra treated us to a capella bliss in the form of words, harmonies, songs and vocal beats in Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic and French. These story telling women, channelling ancient cultures, added a vital layer to Zorn’s tomes.

The awesome Medeski-Dunn-Wollesen trio upped the intensity with John Medeski owning keyboards, Trevor Dunn almost tearing the strings off his bass, and Kenny Wollesen hitting the cymbals well into next week.

Not for lack of energy, the exuberant Zorn conducted septet Bar Kokhba sitting down with intriguing swipes and signals. His label describes their music as “sephardic exotica for young moderns”. Not all the audience were the latter, but we certainly loved the former.

Spectacular and fierce quartet Abraxas raised the bar and the roof as Blumenkranz returned to the gimbri, Aram Bajakian and Eyal Maoz duked it out with guitars, and Kenny Grohowski did his best to knock the letters off the Pearl kit.

The outstanding solo pieces by Erik Friedlander (cello) showcased his versatility, talent and passion. Switching gears again, Zorn conducted The Dreamers sextet with Jamie Saft fantastic on electric piano, Wollesen brilliant, now on vibes, and Dunn, Baron and Baptista equalling the genius of Marc Ribot on guitar.

Zorn then made the conducting of his Masada String Trio look easy as three seemingly incongruous parts diverged and met at his beckoning, creating a delicious aural cornucopia.

Uri Caine’s solo piano pieces, bright, complex, poignant, and beautiful ran into the grand finale; Electric Masada. Joined by the incomparable Ikue Mori (last seen at Tectonics 2) on electronics, Baptista opened the octet’s final piece with a bang (actually, a gong), and ending with his most thunderous drum underpinning the mastermind of the Zorn mix, far superior to any Bond theme ever (yes, I went there), throughout which these world class musicians made it all look as easy as having a good time. Outstanding maestro!

John Zorn is surely one of the world’s finest ethnomusicologists. He’s coming from a place where Jewish music departs from tradition and winds up sitting next to pilot Zorn for a really, really fun ride.

Get Zorn-ed. Three shows left.

Reviewed by Gordon Forester

Venue: Adelaide Festival Centre
Season: 11-14 March 2014
Duration: 4 hours
Tickets: $30 – $450
Bookings: Book through BASS or phone 131 246


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