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John Zorn, Cindy Blackman, Dhafer Youssef, Jon Hassell, The Necks, Kenny Werner

Martin Longley By

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...to make a live Hassell sighting after all these years is a rare privilege. The admirer doubtless wants to make the occasion so mystical that it can't possibly convey all of the potential contained within the imagination.
John Zorn

Abrons Arts Center

February 7, 2009

This is getting to be a habit, as composer and alto saxophonist John Zorn erects his tent at the Abrons Arts Center once more, for two weekend shows, both of them merging older material with fresh compositions, presented by two of his dedicated ensembles. The first evening featured Masada, whilst this second concentrates on The Dreamers, plus a premiere of O'o, which is effectively "Son Of Dreamers." The O'o is an extinct Hawaiian bird. No-one's going to argue with Zorn over what its song was like. Conveniently, the septet are set for a recording session the next morning, so this acts as a hot-wired dress rehearsal run, complete with a full-house audience cheering them onwards.

Zorn, ever the perfectionist, halts a couple of numbers within their first minute or two, although this doesn't appear slack, but rather more like strict, quality control. Even though the combo is visibly uncertain of the new music, this diffidence is only evident in their faces and the greased-by-experience sign language they all have with their leader. Zorn himself doesn't play, but sits in conductor mode, ostensibly not doing much in practical terms, but in actuality triggering solos, controlling their length and encouraging (or discouraging) their level of gusto. The cast is selected for their fluency in the language of 1960s surf trash exotica, filmic boogaloo, cocktail psychedelia and neurotic spangloid sounds in general. Guitarist Marc Ribot is the prime deliverer of potent statements, usually responsible for tearing the ensemble skywards, but Kenny Wollesen (on the vibraphone) and Jamie Saft (on acoustic and electric keys) also take frequent solos. These are always integrated into the general fabric of the tunes, kicked along by the always excitable Joey Baron (on full drumkit) and Cyro Baptista, who is the source of forest-calling sounds throughout, busily and resourcefully tinkering with wood, metal, skin and (just like the Zorn of old) bird-tweet devices. Trevor Dunn often enjoys hyper-deep bass frequencies, but are these shuddering emanations intentional? Sitting here on the front row (admittedly in the full path of his amplifier), some of Dunn's lines sound on the verge of being distorted: pure woolly mammoth vibration.

The demarcation line is thin between what was presumably going to be a pair of sets, as the band vacates the stage following the O'o material. The crowd isn't sure whether this is intermission time or gig's end, so after much cheering, the septet returns with selections from The Dreamers album, almost like a very extended encore. It's an invigorating evening of avant retro-style collisions, with both band and audience thrilled to be hearing this mostly new music.

Cindy Blackman's Explorations

Jazz Standard

February 7, 2009

Drummer Cindy Blackman is debuting her new Explorations band, its most notable feature being the twinning of two keyboardists, in the electric Miles Davis manner. The club's acoustic piano remains shrouded. Zacai Curtis plays Fender Rhodes, while Marc Cary fiddles about with Moog-ey spaghetti, also attending to his laptop. Initially, Cary comes across as a distracted and uncertain outsider presence, as Curtis takes the solo spotlight. But as this late-night set progresses, Cary emerges from his shell, issuing some stridently pitched statements that establish a stylistic dominance, at least for a brief stretch. Blackman herself is less extroverted than usual, though she's still a powerful presence when compared to the majority of drummers. It could be that the material's freshness hasn't yet enabled full freak-out mode, as the band is still coming to grips with the tunes. Nevertheless, it's a celebratory gig, further refining Blackman's dual interests in hardcore post-bop and funky fusion, sometimes accessible and bright, at others roilingly spiritual in an uncompromising manner, this latter quality taken care of by the spiraling saxophone constructions of Antoine Roney.

Dhafer Youssef

Highline Ballroom

February 9, 2009

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