Culture & Conversation

Free Forming Jazz Meets Punk

Place des Arts doesn’t often host punk shows, but tonight, the old drunk bellowing YEAH LOU at the top of his lungs, first in the bar, then from his seat, wasn’t totally alone. A few well-funded rockers brought their overpriced beer in with them and there was more than one `hawk in the crowd. Last night was John Zorn, joined by Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson. Or as many in their seats would put it, Lou Reed played jazz tonight!

Zorn is well-known, if not well-loved by the jazz world. The current king of free-form jazz – the jazz even other musicians can’t stand – he exists in his own world of wild licks and grudgingly bestowed acclaim. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Lou Reed has basically the same resume in the rock world. Their collaboration makes perfect sense and Laurie Anderson couldn’t have chosen two better-qualified misfits to perform with. The show opened with a huge piece, a mountain of sound like St. Saëns did with his organs.

Between the first and second tune people got fidgety and got up to leave. Many were cat-calling, possibly because after paying 70 dollars for a ticket, they expected to hear something other than long honking sounds and a violent string section. The beginning of the second piece was a free-jazz tune that even lovers of free jazz would hate. Squawks and wails punctuated by latecomers getting to their seats and parents leaving with small children they shouldn’t have brought in the first place. Through it all, the violin screeched on behind Zorn’s alto as if to say, “You wanted us, you got us.”

The show is tight, which is not easy in free-form. Too often, tunes get lost on a nonsense tangent and six minutes later you’ve got nothing to show for it. But this is what Zorn does best – he leads and shapes music to what it’s meant to be. Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson easily take cues from him, probably because they’re the only other people both at and on his level. By track three, a mass exodus of people leave and Zorn calls out, “yeah, get the fuck out of here!” Thus the rock and jazz world unite in rage.

The sound is orchestral, deep and rich – an unlikely outcome from only three musicians. Anderson rips on her violin, a mournful, passionate collection of lightning-fast notes that call out flutes, cellos and nearly everything a violin usually isn’t. Reed makes good use of his four guitars and small command centre where he distorts, mixes and orchestrates the tunes. Unlike shows where the musicians are obviously listening and reacting to one another, this is simply mind-reading and immediate action. These cats know each other. Or at least, it sounds like they do.

Tonight’s picks are hard to choose between, so feel free to go to several! At 6 p.m., Amanda Tosoff joins us from BC and every time she comes to town, she’s worth seeing. Robert Glasper plays indoors at Gesù. At 8:30 p.m., Ninjatunes presents Mr. Scruff, Bonobo & Andreya Triana at the Metropolis, and Eric Hove will play at Dieze Onze.

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