John Zorn gets Stoned
While too many NYC music clubs are worrying if they're going to stay open, downtown jazz capo, saxist John Zorn took the initiative to open his own club, the Stone on the lower east side. At one point, it might have been ready to fill the space occupied by the Tonic's closing but that horrible day has been pushed aside thankfully, due to support from the local music scene. Both clubs promote 'experimental' and 'avant garde' music and even in a metro mecca like New York, you can't have too many of those type of places.
As it opened on April 1st, there were some obvious distinct qualities to the Stone. There's no sign outside, no advance ticket sales, no ads. They don't have a liquor license and they don't intend to get one- as Downtown Music Gallery owner and Stone promoter Bruce Gallanter put it, "it's just about the music." The club holds about 80 people and charges only $10 for each show (two a night, open Tuesday through Sunday)- all the money collected goes to the performers as Zorn intends sales from his Tzadik label to support the club otherwise.
The decor of this converted Chinese restaurant was definitely low-key: exposed ceiling, brick walls, lighting wired and strung from the ceiling and black curtains covering the windows. There's some seating, on either side of the stage in the middle, which is designated by some carpet covering. Otherwise, you just have a bathroom to the side (which is sometimes blocked by the performers) and a downstairs backstage area. No amps are needed for an intimate space like this. The only pictures on the wall are B&W photos of future curators of the space- William Parker, Ikue Mori, Jim O'Rourke. It's been booked up for the next two years so obviously, they're not only ambitious but also confident of their mission. Next month, they'll be closed for a week or two to renovate. Jazz at Lincoln Center it ain't but if the first shows were any indication, the club already has a great head start.
Zorn's m.o. is to call whichever musicians are in town and ask them on the spot if they'd like to perform with him. For this occasion, he rounded up this group backstage and then decided on the spot who was going to play- sometimes trios or duets or quartets, with or without him. Decked out in usual camouflage pants, Zorn stood in the wings and called out the performers' names as they came out to play (usually seated). Though I missed the first set, I was told that it was organized the same way. Here then is a blow-by-blow account of the 2nd set.
- Drum ensemble with Kenny Wollesen, Tony Buck, Cyro Batista, Lukas Ligeti. Starting out a shimmering and then a rollicking beat, the group was led by Cyro who sometimes literally played the floor. Because of the small space, a patron trying to exit the bathroom slammed into the drummer. Zorn would make light of that throughout the evening. The stage clears and then...
- An improv duo with Jim Stanley (trombone) and Okkyung Lee (cello). Stanley bleated notes while Lee screeched in response, darting, danced around each other (figuratively, not literally).
- Shanir Blumenkranz (bass) Tony Buck (drums), Marty Ehrlich (sax). Ehrlich sounded like David Murray, like an early autumn morning while Blumenkranz was violently sawing away, using two bows and answering the sax calls.
- Ned Rothenberg (sax), Batista on percussion and drums, Fred Sherry (cello). Batista steals the show again, using a garden hoe to scrape, stomp the ground before moving to the drums.
- A duo with Stanley and Zorn (his first performance for the set). Z checks bathroom, making sure that no one's there and gets some well deserved laughs for that. Then, there ensues a mad screeching match between Stanley and Z. An outside ambulance siren going by fits right in. A machine-gun flurry of notes comes from Z as he uses his inner thigh as mute (Stanley uses a real mute) before breaking into Ayler-Dolphy territory and then ostinato/mantra rush of sound. "I'm on stage 10 minutes, total breakdown!" he calls out at the end.
- Shanir, Lee, Sherry return to do a string trio, sounding like a discordant Xenakis piece.
- Rothenberg on bass clarinet, Wollesen (drums), Ehrlich on clarinet hit a sinuous, sexy groove.
- Everyone comes out for a finale. Zorn: "in the continued tradition of improv party, we all play together." Barely enough room for all of them together there so Zorn plays in bathroom then joined by Stanley- they got a good echo going there. Violent eruption of sounds, which broke down into cadences.
It was an essentially hour-long mini-festival, an impressive show of strength. For anyone who didn't get the message, Zorn had some parting words for the appreciative audience: "We will not be pushed out of our own neighborhood!"