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Live Reviews

Jazz em Agosto 2008: Days 1-3

By Published: August 15, 2008
Day three commenced with a screening of A Bookshelf on Top of the Sky, Claudia Heuermann's highly self-referential film about John Zorn's music. While the film's structure may suffer from some dramatic self-consciousness, it's an effective portrait of Zorn as composer and personality, both intense and multi- dimensional. (There's an intriguing moment when Zorn chides "visual" jazz critics for comparing the band Masada to Ornette Coleman solely because of the quartet's instrumentation. Later there's a filmed passage of the quartet in which Zorn pays a dead-on imitation of Coleman). Filmed over a decade, there are plenty of terrific snippets of Zorn performances, highlighted by appearances of co-workers from Bill Frisell and Joey Baron to Yamashita Eye and Dave Lombardo.

The last of the Japanese bands to perform was the youthful trio PAAP, formerly called Radar and with CDs released on both the Tzadik and Bikemondo label. For any listener, there are performances that one just doesn't get, and for any festival that takes genuine chances there may be a performance that can both create and raise a collective eyebrow. Evidently led by bassist and vocalist Inada Makoto, PAAP (completed by saxophonist Mizutani Yasuhisa and pianist/accordionist Katori Kouichirou) generally possessed limited instrumental command, nor were there any strongly developed personal or group vocabularies. Yasuhisa, however limited, was the most adept of the three, while Kouichirou was the most musically interesting, generating runs and clusters that were genuinely random. The music was generally subdued except for the shouted/ screamed vocals of Makoto who seemed to exercise far more control over the other musicians— dictating the instruments they would play on any given piece—than he did over his bass, depending at great length (over ten minutes at one point) on open strings drummed with a bow. I do not understand Japanese, so the lyrics may have possessed a significance and relevance that was lost on me. There may have been a corresponding theatrical dimension too—something like Ionesco's The Lesson—that eluded me.

The weekend concluded with a duo performance by John Zorn and Fred Frith, Zorn a fitting conclusion to the first weekend of the festival as the person who has done the most to introduce contemporary Japanese music to the West. Zorn and Frith have been working together in different projects for three decades, including one of the Zorn's most celebrated projects: Naked City. They've also worked extensively as an improvising duo, so they were able to call on decades of close interaction as well as a vast arsenal of extended techniques for this performance.

Beyond those techniques, what made the duo so successful was the freedom they exercised in choosing levels of interaction. There were clearly moments when they were attuned to the most microscopic nuance in one another's lines, arriving at some stunning unison concords, often on dramatic high notes; at other times they seemed free to simply co-exist in time and space, each setting up an independent barrage of sounds, whether it was Zorn simultaneously combining reed squeals, circular breathing and bits of scales or Frith rapidly shifting from upright to horizontal guitar positions, de-tuning, inserting various ad hoc bridges and dampers to subdivide the strings, or attacking the instrument with pick, paint brush and bow. As unlikely as it might seem, the results were superbly musical, the highlight coming with Zorn trilling to extended drone lengths while Frith beat a complex rhythmic accompaniment on the guitar. Each played an extended solo to demarcate the three extended duets, with Frith finding orchestral levels of complexity as he combined loops and delays to overlap a host of rhythmic attacks and diverse sounds. While Zorn has accumulated extended techniques from every available source, including the squall of the Sun Ra altoists Marshall Allen and Danny Davis and the multiphonics of Evan Parker, he has a fundamental affinity of sound and line with certain post- Coltrane altoists like Sonny Fortune and Gary Bartz, a hard-edged modal purity that he applied with telling effect to the Masada themes that sometimes emerged here.

After a break of three days, Jazz em Agosto continues the theme of extensions with performances by the Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet, Memorize the Sky, Sylvie Courvoisier's Lonelyville, a solo performance by percussionist Fritz Hauser, an accordion/bass duet with Pascal Contet and Barre Phillips, and a grand finale with Peter Brotzmann's multi-generational Chicago Tentet.

Days 1-3 | Days 4-6

Photo Credit

Joaquim Mendes / Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation

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