[JPL] Music Review | Cecil Taylor and John Zorn

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Fri Mar 16 16:42:42 EDT 2007

March 13, 2007
Music Review | Cecil Taylor and John Zorn
Barricades to Storm, Whether or Not Any Guards Were on
There was a superficial electricity ahead of last
weekend’s double bill at the Rose Theater at Jazz at
Lincoln Center: Cecil Taylor’s new trio and John
Zorn’s Masada. It was conducted further by some
critics and through the nervous conversations of the
audience before the show. It had to do with the notion
that a pugnacious jazz avant-garde was being invited
inside the gates of a dull and powerful establishment.

The jazz avant-garde is a problematic notion:
everybody knows roughly what it means, but nobody
knows where it begins and ends. And if you accept Mr.
Taylor and Mr. Zorn as avant-gardists, you’re too
easily forced to consider Wynton Marsalis — Jazz at
Lincoln Center’s artistic director — as a
mainstreamer. He’s not. His bands don’t sound like
anyone else’s.

But above all, the experimental composers and
bandleaders whose work refers to, argues against and
engages with different parts of jazz — the putative
jazz avant-garde — just don’t need Jazz at Lincoln
Center anymore. Their interests and audiences don’t
extend there. They’ve built their own festivals, their
own record companies. (Mr. Zorn has created his own
Lower East Side club, the Stone, with music six nights
a week.) The MacArthur Foundation has honored almost
all the major figures of the jazz avant-garde with
fellowships. Academic presses are pumping out books
about their achievements. What’s the big deal, for
them, about a gig at the Rose Theater? 

Since it began presenting concerts in 1988, Jazz at
Lincoln Center has never before contracted Mr. Taylor
or Mr. Zorn for a concert. (Oops.) Now, toward the end
of a season called “Innovations in Jazz,” they were
packaged together as a twofer. But whatever ponderous
metathoughts about jazz the weekend’s shows promised,
they happily delivered something much more specific:
the end of one great band and the beginning of

Mr. Zorn distrusts institutional authority and has
mastered the language of the outsider-scourge. Onstage
with Masada on Friday, he righteously cudgeled the

“Let’s hope this is the beginning of a trend of
enlightened programming here,” he yelped. “There are
more young faces in the audience here than there have
been since the inception of this place!” The remark
ennobled the scattering of mostly white and schlumpy
student hipsters among the old subscription audience,
but that didn’t make it true. 

Speeches delivered, the quartet started up, and of
course it didn’t sound out of place; it sounded great.
Nobody got up and left. The older subscriber types
around me weren’t put off by the aggression in the
music. They liked it. 

Masada’s music is logical, comic, athletic; it rides
on a strong groove from Greg Cohen’s bass and Joey
Baron’s speeding drums. It never sounds comfortable or
settled, which fits with the rest of Mr. Zorn’s
artistic temperament. It uses Jewish scales, early
Ornette Coleman melodic shapes and hardcore-punk
energy, and both Mr. Zorn and the trumpeter Dave
Douglas feed off the rhythm section’s rush: Mr.
Douglas’s solos are harmonically engaged; Mr. Zorn’s
are gestural.

Like all of Mr. Zorn’s best projects, Masada is an
airtight system. It has also barely changed since its
first records in 1994, and Tzadik.com, the Web site of
Mr. Zorn’s label, Tzadik, announced that the Lincoln
Center shows would be two of Masada’s last concerts. 

What is it, at this point, that’s so important in
Cecil Taylor’s music? Rhythm. He plays some
interesting chords, but it isn’t so much how he gets
from one to the next, or the melodic shapes he traces;
it’s all in the movement. As with any innately
charismatic actor or dancer, witnessing it is
infinitely better than trying to explain it. It’s in
the millions of choices that make a flowing gesture. 

There’s plenty of alluring stuff in Mr. Taylor’s
phrasing: funk, 6/8 grooves and very familiar bits and
pieces of blues. It’s just that a lot of it happens
almost simultaneously, one strand merging into the
next before the completion of a single measure. His
new trio, AHA 3, had Henry Grimes on bass, who
confirmed the music’s shifting key centers with his
low-end rumble. But it was the drummer Pheeroan
AkLaff, playing with technical detail and plenty of
funk, who made it all clear for you.

In a handful of pieces, some becoming impossibly dense
and clotted, too much for a sizable chunk of the
audience — was this why the Rose Theater technical
crew made the idiotic decision to bring up the house
lights before the show was over? — the three musicians
careered through agitated pantonal improvisations,
bass and drums tightly aligned to Mr. Taylor’s

Mr. Taylor’s music doesn’t draw on a body of
consensual, practical knowledge; he is the single
source of his art, and his sidemen got as close to it
as any Taylor group I’ve seen in 20 years. 


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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