Jazz In Marciac Festival: Day 9
My overall assessment was a solid, workman-like night. Reaction from a concert tent perhaps three-fourths full was positive and there were few negative comments.
"Ravi Coltrane actually put on a really good show," said Law Hamilton, a Rockport, Mass., resident on a WGBH radio tour whose photographs of the main concerts are seen here (her work is also part of day four's article). "From what I've heard he's really matured during the last season or two of touring."
With Zorn, consensus was anything but likely.
The love-hate opinions exist even within fans - myself included, since I have little taste for much of his electric work. But coming to Marciac with Acoustic Masada meant experiencing his improvised genius/insanity (depending on one's view) free of that clutter and Zorn's bandmates - some of whom weren't in their best element during shows with other groups heard recently - are about as tight and compatible as a quartet gets.
The Marciac gig wasn't one of his crazier shows - in fact, it seemed reasonably easy to relate to and keep up with nearly the entire night. His finger-flailing screams-from- nowhere and "other" sounds were often more punctuation than the foundation of his diamond-tone verbiage, which as as newcomer I tended to associate with Sanborn on ecstasy. It was strongly evident on the opening worldbeat-laced "Tharsis" (a Zorn original, as were all of the songs played), notable more for a strong series of progressions than the occasions - sometimes momentary, sometimes not - he completely deviated from them. But, like the person who curses rarely, it gave those indulgences more prominence and made their point with much greater authority.
The interchange of players emerged more on the subsequent "Mibi," with Zorn and trumpeter Dave Douglas launching a freeform assault. Bassist Greg Cohen and drummer Joey Barron did a less chaotic mix of their own and the baton continued getting passed - loosely - between the pairs. Douglas, who seems to run hot and cool depending on the band he's with, was hot here by supplying the cool (sorry, couldn't resist the cheesy phrasing) that kept Zorn's wilder moments from singeing. Even when they were both going full-tilt, their acoustics were remarkable well-matched for this kind of music, a testament to the bond they've developed.
Barron, who overwhelmed his co-players a bit when I saw him with John Abercrombie at a tiny festival in Finland last month (write-up on that coming soon as part of my "Back Roads Beat" series), was among equals here. I'm as qualified to break down his technique as I am to play it; let's just say he underscored and helped build up the subtler moments of songs like "Rikbiel" as well as he whaled during jungle and group improvs and leave it there.
Crowd reaction was notable, with isolated shouts from all over the tent between songs - and since they were in French I have no idea if they thought Zorn was taking requests or not. The collective reaction probably wasn't the strongest of the festival (hey, not everyone's a fan), but it wasn't far off and a couple of festival officials said they were pleased his music was accepted so well.
Others offered unsolicited raves during random conversions over the next couple of days, and Paul De Barros of Downbeat and The Seattle Times - a favorite scribe of mine whose opinions I've come to respect even more talking with him during the week - agreed it was a special performance and Zorn said as much talking to De Barros afterward ("how could you not be charged by the crowd reaction" was more or less Zorn's comment, but I'd rather not scoop De Barros with detailed or verbatim quotes).
On the other hand, Gabriel Suball, a volunteer in the festival's media computer room, said he found Zorn's avant-gardism too strange for his tastes ("but interesting"). Suball said he enjoyed featured shows on earlier days by The Blind Boys Of Alabama and Omar Sosa, but his tastes run more to hard rock. Law Hamilton, again providing photographs of the main concerts as she did on day four, said it was her first exposure to Zorn and, as a fan of the likes of Kenny Barron and Charles Lloyd, it was "not my cup of tea."
Consider that my contribution to balanced reporting. Meanwhile, apparently in need of an auditory cold shower before hitting the next round of performances with fresh ears, I had no idea just how much of one I about to experience.
Coming on day 10: Playing up a storm in Mariac.