Somewhat of a renaissance man, saxophonist and composer John Zorn is always reinventing himself, making it somewhat hard to pigeonhole his musical modus operandi.
Back in the mid-‘90s, he formed the group Masada with trumpeter Dave Douglas, bassist Greg Cohen and drummer Joey Barron, and saw the group as a way to put “Ornette Coleman and Jewish scales together.”
Three years ago, the group disbanded after a long and successful run, only to return this year in an expanded format with the addition of pianist Uri Caine and percussionist Cyro Baptista.
Friday night's set at the newly revamped Gartner Auditorium (inside the Cleveland Museum of Art) clearly showed just how fully this new line-up has coalesced, with Zorn conducting in spots and fully animated during his own vigorous solos.
Looking for a bit more spunk in the opening strains of one of the pieces, he was faintly heard telling the band to “stop fucking around and play some jazz!” With literally hundreds of originals from his vast catalog to choose from, Zorn picked a sagacious lot that, while sounding quite similar, managed to form a patchwork quilt of varied tempos and grooves.
Zorn’s own playing is somewhat of an acquired taste, manic in its darting action from dulcet tones to high-pitched shrieks.
Douglas was far more engaging, with a clarion call that blended effortlessly with Zorn’s alto during ensemble lines and spoke volumes during his own solo statements. Baron and Baptista proved to be integral to the whole, as much of the music relied on folkloric rhythms and stop-time passages the propelled the music forward with stimulating intent.
The only downside of an otherwise inspired evening would be the brevity of the performance, clocking in at just a wee bit over an hour. —C. Andrew Hovan