John Zorn in Residence – A Tribute to Derek Bailey

A Tribute to Derek Bailey

Gavin Bryars (double bass)
Milford Graves (percussion)
Bill Laswell (electric bass)
George Lewis (trombone)
Tony Oxley (percussion)
Mike Patton (voice)
John Zorn (alto saxophone)

Reviewed by: Bernie Mulcahy

Reviewed: 17 June, 2006
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Prolific composer and saxophonist John Zorn is as well known for his experimental music as he is for his love of improvisation. His relentless experimentation with sound has resulted in him playing with jazz ensembles, symphony orchestras and hard-core rock groups.

This performance was the first night of a weekend residence at the Barbican and paid tribute to British guitarist and master of improvisation Derek Bailey, who died in December 2005. Zorn brought together an ensemble of musicians all of whom had a great rapport with Bailey and the audience awaited a feast of avant-garde improvisation.

The musicians performed in ad hoc groups. The first piece featured Zorn and trombonist George Lewis, along with composer Gavin Bryars on double bass and percussionist Tony Oxley, both of whom were members of the Joseph Holbrooke trio with Bailey in the early 1960s. Frenetic, squealing alto sax, drowning trombone and waves of staccato percussion, with ripostes from Bryars, produced the sound of a zoo going up in flames.

Bill Laswell on electric bass and percussionist Milford Graves took to the stage. “I need power”, repeated Laswell, as we awaited the electricity for his bank of effects pedals. A blast of rock power, distorted harmonics and thunderous free drumming followed. Bryars and Lewis returned to the stage for something altogether more fragile, fluid double bass providing the backdrop for meandering trombone.

A solo spot from Oxley allowed us to get inside his intricate beats combined with chimes, woodblocks and spacey electronics. Zorn returned to the stage alongside Laswell and Graves for a blistering aural assault, which they clearly enjoyed – Graves adding whoops and gibberish. Oxley, Bryars and Lewis brought back understatement, with the trombone laughing at spooky, underwater sounds.

A thrilling, cacophonous finale featured the whole ensemble as well as rock vocalist Mike Patton, who howled and screamed as Graves carried him to the front of the stage on his shoulders. If Bailey was listening, he would certainly have approved.

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