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Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Bushman’s Revenge - All the Better For Seeing You (Is It Jazz?, 2023)

By Martin Schray

The Norwegian Jazz trio Bushman’s Revenge was formed in 2003, their first album from 2007 was on a label called Jazzaway. The trio, which is Even Helte Hermansen on guitar, Rune Nergaard on bass and Gard Nilssen on drums, has released ten well received albums, eight for the marvelous Rune Grammofon label, before they went to Hubro with Et Hån Mot Overklassen. Their new album is released by Is It Jazz?, which is not only a label’s name but also a programmatic question.

Some quotes about the band are almost legend. Jazzwise said that they were “insanely good, as if Jeff Beck was backed by Elvin Jones“, while David Fricke of the Rolling Stone magazine said that they were “like a Marshall amp version of John Coltrane’s Interstellar Space“. On the one hand, the quotes are catchy, of course, and make it clear that Bushman's Revenge play a very unique version of jazz rock, but on the other hand, they are only half true, because they do not reflect the complexity and the many influences of the music.

On their new album this is undoubtedly, as far as Even Helte Hermansen’s guitar is concerned, mainly Bill Frisell (“Halvannen Time - an hour and a half, more than enough“, “Stolen From A Blind Monkey“ and “Takk For Seg“), John Abercrombie (“Last Cup of Zorro“), a cross between Vernon Reid and Larry Coryell (“Hollowed Be Thy Fame“) and finally indeed Jeff Beck (“Raptus Norvegicus“). Drummer Gard Nilssen’s influences are primarily Tony Williams, Ed Blackwell, Roy Haynes and Jack DeJohnette, while Rune Nergaard incorporates both Jack Bruce, Steve Swallow and Stanley Clarke into his playing. All of this, plus the musicians’ love of all kinds of jazz, rock and improvised music, allows the band to flow together into one big “gumbo of sound“. As a result, the guitar sounds float over rock riffs, Nilssen’s drumming is always rooted in improvised jazz. On top of that, Nergard’s bass remains stoic on a rock solid foundation, not unlike the old label mates Fire!’s approach. As a consequence, Bushman’s Revenge’s melting pot always has a psychedelic component. So, is this jazz? I don’t know, but there’s definitely something of the spirit of the 1960s about these guys; they were born a little too late to become superstars. They would have deserved it.

All the Better for Seeing You is available on vinyl, as a CD and as a download. You can listen to it and buy it here.

Monday, October 30, 2023

François Carrier Ensemble feat. Mat Maneri, Tomasz Stańko, Gary Peacock & Michel Lambert - Openness (Fundacja Słuchaj, 2023)

By Stef Gijssels

In the first month of our existence, somewhere early 2007, we reviewed "Happening" (2006), a double CD by François Carrier (alto and soprano), Mat Maneri (viola), Michel Lambert (drums) and Pierre Côté (double bass), recorded in Montréal on at the Gesù Theater on April 8, 2005. One year later, they met again, but with the great Tomasz Stańko flying over from Poland, and the equally great Gary Peacock on bass. Carrier and Lambert already released an album with Gary Peacock before ("Travelling Lights" (2004)), but never with the great Polish trumpeter. Apparently, Carrier was fascinated by Stańko's "Matka Joanna" 1995 album on ECM, and he should be. Peacock and Stańko had performed together on the former's "Voice From The Past", also on ECM but dating from 1982. 

This 3-CD abum was recorded live at the Théâtre La Chapelle in Montréal on May 5 and 6, 2006. Again, one may wonder why it took so much time for this performance to be released as an album - and I'm sure there are still many gems awaiting the same lucky fate on hard drives around the world. Considering their respective collaborations in the past, this album really sounds like a happy reunion, with the caveat that it is farther away from the ECM sound (yes, it does exist) than one would expect. 

Like on "Happening", the music shifts between moments of dense interplay and long moments of ephemeral dialogues and slow sonic developments, giving some of the pieces a deep spiritual dimension, and both Stańko and Peacock are fully at ease in this entirely free environment, and it also seems to give them wings. The lead voices shift the entire time, and their natural sense of lyricism largely determines the overall sound, at times weaving simultaneous sonic threads around each other's phrases, or giving space for solo improvisations, in which Peacock happily participates. With the exception of two short tracks, most pieces are around ten to twenty minutes long, allowing for the slow and careful development of ideas, and offering the listener close to three hours of incredible music. 

The overall atmosphere is gentle, deep and emotional, with exceptional listening skills and respect from and for all musicians. The immediacy of picking up phrases from the other band members and playing around with them is uncanny. There is a directness and humility that is truly inspiring, possibly because none of these musicians still have anything to prove, having reached that stage where musical interaction comes spontaneously, fully concentrating on the other one's sound and the music itself, co-creating without needing to think at any time about one's instrument or structural requirements. "Openness" seems to be the best possible title for the music. 

In 2017, Carrier mentioned this in an interview with Cadence Magazine: "I deliberately choose to celebrate life through the music that comes to me from the heart, from within. If everything is music, then Music must always be there waiting for us? Being attentive is the secret. I thus favor spontaneity (mentally [ego] free), pure improvisation, the free expression of the soul. It all has to do with positive creativity and introspection. I am not searching for anything, nor do I think of anything while playing. Each moment becomes a moment of grace. One gives himself body and soul, unconditionally, without compromise".

A moment of grace indeed, also for the listener who can enjoy what the audience in 2006 was so enthusiastic about. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Alexander Hawkins: Sunday Interview

Photo by Cristina Marx/Photomusix
  1. What is your greatest joy in improvised music?

    I would find it virtually impossible to prioritise between them, but some of the many joys would be: the possibilities for invention, for discovery, for surprise, for spontaneity, for communication, for expression, for collaboration, and more generally - for beauty.

  2. What quality do you most admire in the musicians you perform with?

    Near the top of the list would be a 'sound': understood as a personal tone, a personal language, and a personal way of engaging with others. I prize independence and clarity of thought. I also truly admire a type of fearlessness which I think of as linked to behaving without ego: the type of musician who is brave enough to take chances and push at limits, in the knowledge that there is a risk inherent in this. I say this because a perhaps uncomfortable truth in this music is that a lot of the time when we claim to be improvising, I think we are only really doing so at best in a very minimal sense...routine is as common in improvised music as in any other walk of life. Of course it would be possible to dive into many more specific answers to this question, but I think the answers would generally be contingent upon the specific musical context.

  3. Which historical musician/composer do you admire the most?

    I can't answer the question on its own terms: there could never be a 'most', as I admire countless people for countless different reasons. But in the spirit of the game, I'll play along and say J.S. Bach. Having begun in western classical music, I understand there are biases at play here...but I find the technical beauty of some of his music overwhelming - I'm thinking here of works such as The Art of Fugue and the Musical Offering. There are of course magical sounds to be heard everywhere, but the longer I spend with music, the more I personally find the real transcendence to be in form and organisation, and not many people have ever created oases of perfection in this sense like Bach did. (A million disclaimers of course apply).

  4. If you could resurrect a musician to perform with, who would it be?

    To perform with? Too tough. Parker? Dolphy? Coltrane? Or perhaps I'd ask Mary Lou Williams, Duke Ellington, or Monk to write us a pad of music?

  5. What would you still like to achieve musically in your life?

    Oh we don't even begin to have the column inches here...big picture-wise, I'll say this: if I knew conceptually where I wanted the music to go, a) I would have tried to go there already, and b) in any case, I probably wouldn't be looking hard enough for the new ideas.

    I would like to continue to improve my capability to translate the sounds in my head onto my instrument. Similarly, I would also like to continue to improve my ability to capture these sounds in some notational form.

    Then we can move on to the very mundane: at some point, I would love just to get around to learning all of the Well-Tempered Clavier, or all of the Vingt Regards. And no-one is more aware than me of the gaping holes in my technical ability: so I'd like to continue trying to plug these.

    I would also add this, however: I feel extremely fortunate already to have had so many wonderful musical experiences: so although I am hopelessly restless, I am also extremely grateful.

  6. Are you interested in popular music and - if yes - what music/artist do you particularly like?

    Oh certainly - and I'm not sure what I'd make of the person who claimed not to have an interest in a particular type of music. Even something which a person isn't into represents an opportunity to learn and to deepen an understanding of musical values, after all. As for what I particularly like, the list would go on for too long, so I'll limit it to some things I've been listening to recently and enjoying: Billy Woods, Jorge Ben, and Gal Costa. Incidentally here, sometimes it feels like barely a flight goes by where I don't listen to either 'Curtis' or 'Curtis/Live!'

  7. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

    Part of me wants to reiterate that I'm extremely grateful, and part of me wants to ask 'just one???'

  8. Which of your albums are you most proud of?

    I wouldn't put something out if I wasn't proud of it, although of course it's true to say that personal standards change, and in general I suspect I'm far more self-critical now than I used to be. But again, I'll certainly play the game, but with some sideman appearances instead! Of all the albums I made under Louis Moholo-Moholo's leadership, for instance, I'm most proud of 'Uplift the People'. Live, that quintet could be totally transporting, and I feel that album - a live one - is the record which best captures just a little bit of what the room could be like some nights. I'm also immensely proud of the Quartet (Standards) 2020 box set with Anthony Braxton, for a number of reasons both personal and musical.

  9. Once an album of yours is released, do you still listen to it? And how often?

    In an earlier interview in this series, Lina Allemano's answer to this question really resonated with me: it's certainly true for me too that in the production phase of a recording, I listen to my recordings so much that they do indeed become somewhat internalised. I rarely, if ever, put on something just for enjoyment: and besides, in general if not exclusively, backwards seems like the wrong way to be facing as a creative musician. That said, I'm perfectly happy to listen to older recordings if perhaps there is a technical detail I am trying to understand in a composition, or if I am looking for a sample, or something like this.

  10. Which album (from any musician) have you listened to the most in your life?

    I'd love to know the actual answer to this! It would probably naturally be something which dates back a long way in my listening life, before a) having a little more money to spend on recorded music or (especially) b) digital technologies made it so much easier to listen broadly, if often in a more shallow manner. It could well be something like the late Art Tatum trio record with Red Callender and Jo Jones; it could well be some Sonny Rollins - most likely 'Newk's Time' or 'Saxophone Colossus', although possibly 'Plus 4' with Clifford Brown. It could also very well be a classical recording, in which case it would probably be the Riccardo Muti/Philharmonia recording of Respighi Symphonic Poems, the Svetlanov recording of the 'Poem of Ecstasy', or the Frühbeck De Burgos recording of De Falla's 'El Amor Brujo'. If we're talking individual tracks, I'd probably put the money on it being Rex Stewart's 'Menelik - The Lion of Judah'.

  11. What are you listening to at the moment?

    An old Supraphon album of Janáček songs featuring Eva Zikmundová and Beno Blachut, amongst others.

  12. What artist outside music inspires you?

    Again, I could go on and on here. But one thing which people may not know about me is that I am absolutely obsessed with the work of Charles M. Schulz. In his economy, he's like Thelonious Monk. Schulz can express in four panels what others may take 400 pages to convey. Anyway, I've read Peanuts complete from 1950-2000, and couldn't touch another book while doing this..! He is a genius.


Review with Alexander Hawkins:

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Triio – Magnetic Dreaming (Elastic Recording, 2023)

By Guido Montegrandi

Triio is Alex Fournier's 11-years old project and in this incarnation is composed by Bea Labikova - soprano sax, alto sax, flute, Naomi McCarroll-Butler - bass clarinet, clarinet, Tom Fleming – guitar, Michael Davidson – vibraphone, Stefan Hegerat - drums/percussion and Fournier - double bass/composition.

The notes inform us that “Magnetic Dreaming is a single composition featuring vastly different terrains and atmospheres, all strung together with a dream logic influenced form.”

Recorded during the Six-ish Plateaus session, (which was released by Triio in 2022) The composition is split in six different tracks flowing one into the other with titles like - 'Prelude: Seven Hundred Steps Descending to the Gates of Magnetic Sleep' - or - 'Atop the Onyx Tower or Plumbing the Sentiment Field' that evoke a dreamlike landscape.

The Prelude has a suspended and sparse quality that flows into a robust sax piece which in turn is evolving into a bowed section giving rise to a reeds and vibraphone interplay over a drum ostinato… just like the evoked dream logic, music seems to follow free associations, catching glimpses and chasing them until something else rise above the horizon.

Describing the Triio project on his site Alex Fournier says: ”contrasting intricate written sections with open ended improvisation, the music allows for total freedom of expression while still maintaining a distinct direction from piece to piece, with the goal of continuously creating a living score that is always open to the moment”.

Remarkably belonging to the same recording session, Magnetic Dreaming displays even better than Six-his Plateaus the interrelation between written parts and improvised sections. Its length and its fragmented evolving structure allow the musicians to cooperate in creating an expansive picture where each of them finds a proper space and a right time.

A special mention for my favourite piece: 'What Cycle or Identity, in Lie Group or Walking' with a bass and drum ostinato intro on which the reeds develop a mesmerizing melody further counterpointed by vibraphone and guitar.

One last thing, if you want to go deeper into Mr. Fournier's points of view, here you can find a 2022 interview in which he talks among other things about the recording session that originated this record.

You can listen, buy and download this record on Bandcamp.

Friday, October 27, 2023

John Scofield - Uncle John's Band (ECM, 2023)

I've been savoring every crisp note from guitarist John Scofield's Uncle John's Band for a bit now. The trio format, I believe, is Scofield's calling - he has crafted a distinct approach to his guitar playing that works best with skeletal, but solid, accompaniment, like on his ECM debut Swallow Tales (ECM, 2020) and years prior on Enroute (Verve, 2004), both with drummer Bill Stewart and bassist Steve Swallow. Last year, Scofield released the solo album, John Scofield (ECM, 2022), and while it was an enjoyable release with some stand-out tunes, the recording also highlighted the lack of accompaniment and interaction as Scofield's solo work, in general, relies on the looping pedal rather than self-standing intricate chord-melody arrangements. On his new double CD release, however, the setting is just right: Scofield's sharp, sometimes snarky lines and gripping tonal clusters are given a sometimes subtle, and sometimes brawny, lift from this new-ish trio.

Actually, the guitarist's pairing with ECM is a somewhat unusual one. While on the one hand, he is in the lineage of his peers on the label, like Pat Metheny, John Abercrombie, and Bill Frisell, he doesn't necessarily have an as easily adapted "ECM sound." There was one recording, the excellent Quiet (Verve, 1996), that suggested that a less edgier sound for the guitarist was quite feasible, but certainly not signature. So, whereas the label often brings a certain shape to the sound of its releases, Scofield is brings his thing to Uncle John's Band, and the results are fantastic. 
There are a couple of pop/rock gems that he has arranged, which are once both nostalgic and given a new lease on life. For example, the title track, an evergreen Grateful Dead gem is a simple, catchy earworm, and in this arrangement, its charm is enhanced. The light, harmonious melody is encapsulated in choice chord voicings and a syncopated delivery. The track also gains gravitas and momentum through Vicente Archer's bass lines and Bill Stewart's drumming.
After the warm welcome of the opening track, 'Mr. Tamborine Man,' we are dropped deep into Scofield's comfort zone. 'How Deep,' you ask? Well, yes, it is. Sparky, melodic lines ping pong off of his bandmates' insistent, driving pulse. Stewart, a Scofield veteran, knows exactly where the accents should go and newcomer Archer has no problem filling in the rest on upright bass. The two give the guitarist plenty of support to stretch out with an acerbic solo, pushing and pulling the tension with an instinctive feel. The follow up, 'TV Band,' finds the guitarist delving into the groove that he has explored with his works like Groove Elation (Blue Note, 1995) and his various forays with Medeski, Martin and Wood (i.e.: A Go Go, Verve, 1998). After a strummed chord figure, Stewart and Archer kick in with a simple rhythmic line that opens into a head-bopping tune. The first disc wraps up with Neil Young's 'Old Man,' delivered with a questioning introduction and leading to folk-rock accented arrangement with some well placed outside-the-lines note choices.

So, yes, no, not free jazz. This digression is something that I already once tried to excuse myself for back in 2020 when I reviewed Swallow Tales, however, I find listening to Uncle John's Band a truly guilt-less pleasure, I mean, I just like the buzzing intro to 'Mr. Tamborine Man,' which pays equal attention to the special sauce that the Byrds added in their hit version and to Dylan's own way of taking liberties with the well-worn song, while adding some excellent soloing and recasting the 58 year old war horse in a loving, new way. The word "loving" could be used to describe the overall effort - Uncle John's Band captures Scofield in the best light possible - the exacting sonic atmosphere of ECM, the looser approach of Scofield, and songs of which he truly has deep appreciation

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Mats Gustafsson's Instant Conduction Works

Mats Gustafsson - Hidros 9 Mirrors (Trost, 2023)

Hidros 9 Mirrors is a conducted improvisation work based on graphic scores by Swedish sax player-composer Mats Gustafsson for 25 musicians - two identical 9-piece “mirror” chamber ensembles - The Norwegian NyMusikk Trondheim (including master double bass player Michael F. Duch and organist Daniel Formo) and the Polish Avant Art Ensemble, 4 soloists - trumpeter Anders Nyqvist (on slide and piccolo trumpets), Colin Stetson on amplified bass saxophone, guitarist Hevig Mollestad and tubaist Per-Åke Holmlander, plus Revox tape machines played by Jérôme Noetinger and turntables played by dieb13 (aka Dieter Kovačič) (all soloists worked before with Gustafsson, including dieb13). All are conducted by Gusatfasson himself, using three types of graphic scores and different, instant conducting methods, where predetermined rules will control tempo, dynamics, density and other musical parameters.

This ambitious work is an in-depth exploration and continuation of the previous piece Hidros o.T. (2019), commissioned by NyMusikk Trondheim, and inspired by the mirrored forms and visual structures of Austrian artist Mathias Pöschl. It was commissioned by the Avant Art Foundation and premiered and recorded live at the festival in Warsaw in October 2022. The graphic scores were visible on stage, both for the musicians and the audience.

The atmosphere of this work is both introspective and futurist, investigating and experimenting thoughtfully and slowly with how the sonic palettes of the traditional and acoustic, including the strings players of both ensembles - 4 double basses, 2 cellos, and 2 violins, resonate and interact with the sonic palette of Stestson’s bass saxophone with contact microphone amplifier, Nyqvist’s trumpets, Mollestad electric guitar, Holmlander’s tuba, dieb13’s turntables and Noetinger’s vintage tape machines. Gustafsson called the nine pieces “Mirrors”, “Shadows”, “Echoes” and “Reflection” and these titles capture the dynamics of the enigmatic, subtle interactions and suggest surprising but challenging sonic perspectives and textures that demand repeated listening in order to decipher the multi-layered dynamics.

Mats Gustafsson & Ensemble E - EE Opus One (Trost, 2023)


Gustafsson wanted to combine traditions of contemporary Music, noise, free improvised music, free jazz and other experimental music fields and traditions with the deeper music traditions with the new, seven-piece Ensemble E. EE Opus One is a provocative but profound sonic research of traditional and non-traditional ways of expressing folk music of Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Poland, Ukraine. The Ensemble E was recorded live at the Codes Festival in Lublin, Poland, in May 2022.

This unconventional instrumentation of the ensemble includes Norwegian Hardanger fiddler Helga Myhr, Polish Bilgoraj suka player (a unique fiddle that is played vertically) Sylwia Świątkowska, Portuguese trumpeter Susana Santos Silva (who also plays in Fire! Orchestra), Polish vocalist-tubaist Maniucha Bikont, Norwegian organist and prepared piano player Daniel Formo (who also plays in Hidros 9 Mirrors), Swedish prepared piano and clavichord player and percussionist, and Gustafsson who plays on baritone sax, flute and the Swedish fipple flute spilåpipa and conducts the Ensemble E.

Gustafsson explains that by putting all these distant and contrasting elements “next to each other/ on top of each other/ inside of each other”, with no traditional prejudices but with a spirit of sharing, he could offer new musical courses. “This is all about how it is shared. And with whom. And WHO we are”, he concludes. The 48-minute, improvised with instant conduction and graphic score EE Opus One sounds like it visits untimely and imaginative, chartered and unchartered genre-evasive melodic territories that keep melting into each other and drifting apart while balancing between solo expressions and collective interaction. The intense yet poetic EE Opus One suggests a borderless and compassionate global village.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Wayne Horvitz, Butch Morris & Bobby Previte Trio - Live Forever, Vol. 2, NYC, Leverkusen 1988-1989 (Self-Released, 2023)

By Stef Gijssels

Wayne Horvitz' "Live Forever Vol. 1" from 2021 is comprised of Wayne Horvitz, Elliott Sharp, Doug Wieselman, Bobby Previte, Dave Tronzo and Dave Hofstra, a completely different ensemble and style compared to this album, a kind of super trio with Horvitz on keyboards, drum machine and electronics, the late Butch Morris on trumpet and marimba, and Bobby Previte on drums, drum machine and marimba. 

This is the trio from Horvitz's more exploratory period, with albums such as "Some Order, Long Understood" (1983), "Nine Below Zero" (1986) - the source of four tracks on this live album ("If Only", "3 Places In Suburban California", "Remind Me Of You", and "After All These Years"), and the "Todos Santos" (1988) album which also includes other musicians such as Doug Wieselman, Bill Frisell. From this album the composition "Adagio" is performed. 

For music lovers who know from his "American Bandstand/Sweeter Than The Day" ensemble or its electric twin "Zony Mash" will be surprised at the often brutal and exploratory sound of this trio despite its firm rhythmic and thematic base. Yet they do more than break boundaries. Some pieces are truly gentle and welcoming, as on the first part of the long "Adagio" on which Morris plays beautiful and contemplative trumpet over the dark organ and sparse drumming ... until it changes. Another track, such as the mid-tempo "Standing Still" is based on a typical Horvitz bluesy and playful boppish tune and chord progression - and not reflecting its title at all. The same can be said from its marimba-introed successor "Early Winters", a piece of lightfooted joy. These are musicians who are having fun while creating meaningful art in the process. Horvitz natural lyricism and deep-rooted sense of traditional jazz find a wonderfully fresh update in this more adventurous environment. 

The last two tracks "Leverkusen 1" and "Leverkusen 2", are completely improvised, and demonstrate again the trio's quality and singular approach. They play with rudimentary electronics, and integrate it in a weird yet compelling sonic environment that keeps mixing discomfort with pleasant sounds. 

The audience is present too, which gives the album its real live feeling. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Monday, October 23, 2023

Ivo Perelman and Matt Moran - Tuning Forks (Ibeji, 2023)

By Sammy Stein

Saxophonist Ivo Perelman and vibraphonist Matt Moran have released Tuning Forks on Perelman’s Ibeji label. The label previously released Soccer Land and Tapebas Songs in the 90s and Perelman rescued the label so he can periodically launch special projects of his.

Tuning Forks came about after Perelman spent time studying tuning forks. It is typical of Perelman that after embroiling himself in the study of an area, he creates music around it. A familiar musicians’ tool, Perelman has studied tuning forks’ therapeutic and acoustic values and created an album exploring the myriad of ways in which sounds can be created, blended, and developed.

From the outset, Perelman takes a different stance with his saxophone on this recording.

The slap tongue has largely vanished and altissimo, while it periodically appears, is reserved only for capacious room in the music which the vibes leave open for Perelman to explore such as in ‘Schumann’, the fourth track on the album.

Rich harmonies are developed between saxophone and vibraphone with melodic inclusion – largely because Perelman is playing alongside a vibes master who produces echoing, sostenuto notes and chords from the vibes and their echoing sostenuto calls for responses that are more flowing and melodic than Perelman might otherwise deliver. Perelman demonstrates his versatility and continuing ability to surprise as his sax has a different timbre from the fiery delivery on many of his previous releases and vibration appears to be a key element throughout the recording.

The track names give clues about the origins of some of the ideas. All tracks bar the final one are named after theories involving patterns and rhythms. ‘Gregorian’ (repeated time periods), ‘Pythagorean’ (Pythagoras scholars arranged notes and numbers in patterns), ‘Tesla’, (unit of magnetic flux density), ‘Schumann’ (a magnetic resonance) ‘Fibonacci’ (a series of numerical sequences) and the track that bucks the trend ‘Rife’ (in an unchecked manner).

Perelman describes his approach as “You will hear a different timbre from my sax, penetrating and with richer harmonic sounds resulting from a vibrational hyper-absorption recently provided by these studies (of tuning forks). The vibraphone and the way Matt Moran plays it is very similar to what tuning forks provide.”

This recording is a different offering from Perelman and Moran’s expertise on vibraphone is allowed to flow out and through Perelman’s sonic bursts.

From the mellow delivery of ‘Pythagorean’ and the repeated motif of ‘Gregorian’ to the free-flowing interactions on ‘Rife’ Perelman and Moran react to each other in a gentle and almost reserved manner.

The vibe effect on Perelman is clear, with increased lower register content and a tempered, calmer style of playing that allows the vibes to be heard, and, while largely in a supportive role, Moran is allowed to demonstrate his vibe skills with regular solo spots. Not once on this recording does Perelman fly off at a tangent and develop his hyper-energetic response to a fellow musician so familiar with his playing style. Yet that is not a bad thing because we see a mellower, more melodic style of playing – at one point Perelman strays onto the blues side of the street and it is an opportunity to hear this additional part of his playing skill set. Even on ‘Rife’ with its freer style and allowance for deviation – which Perelman takes with relish as he wavers around the vibe chords – the sax player is somewhat controlled and measured.

A welcome additional ingredient to the treasure trove of styles that Perelman can deliver.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Chris Pitsiokos - Sunday Interview

Photo (c) Cristina Marx/Photomusix
1. What is your greatest joy in improvised music?

First I want to define what I'm talking about here, to be clear. For me there are several things called "improvised music;" I'll mention two of them. I think what we usually refer to when we use the term improvised music is the genre of improvised music, which has a certain, I would say narrow, set of sonic signifiers and musical patterns associated with it. I have a lot of opinions and feelings about the genre, but let's just say that "joy" is not something that readily comes to mind. Another definition of improvised music is a description of a process that can be used to generate music that can sound like just about anything. For me this involves real-time interaction with fellow musicians, history, and environment as a piece unfolds. This is a flexible and robust process, that, at its best can be generative of new ideas, new relationships, and new music. When it is these things, it brings me joy.

2. What quality do you most admire in the musicians you perform with? 

I have been fortunate enough to work with some musicians who really bring something fresh to every performance. This takes skill, as I don't feel it's very interesting or beautiful to force new things to happen. So you have to kind of see what the music asks for in real time, take it seriously, and then bring your own personality, decision-making, musical knowledge, technical facility and emotion into it, and on top of that try not to repeat yourself or others too much. When I find this in a musician, I can't get enough of playing with them.

3. Which historical musician/composer do you admire the most? 

Miles Davis. This man changed music more than five times. He changed it every time he played. It's actually still mind-boggling to me to think what Miles did from the period of 1950-1975. 25 years, from playing with Charlie Parker, to Birth of the Cool, Kind of Blue, ESP, In a Silent Way, Jack Johnson, Bitches Brew, Live-Evil, On the Corner, Get Up with It, all the live stuff from 70-75. It's miraculous actually.

4. If you could resurrect a musician to perform with, who would it be? 

No one actually. This goes against my principles. I don't think the music is pushed forward by wishing you could have played with someone who is dead. We can learn from the past, and get inspiration from the past, but I never dream of going back there. I even try to resist the temptation of playing with members of the older generation too much, no matter how much I might love and respect their music. Of course in my life there are exceptions to this, because some people keep pushing the music forward their whole lives. This is a pretty rare quality though.

5. What would you still like to achieve musically in your life? 

I would have to second Satoko's answer from a couple weeks ago. It's pretty fundamental to want to make something that no one has heard before. It's a tall order, but otherwise, what are we doing here?

6. if you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? 

I'll also take a cue from Satoko on this one. I'm pretty happy to be myself.

7. Are you interested in popular music and - if yes - what music/artist do you particularly like?
Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Billie Holiday

8. Which of your albums are you most proud of? 

I would say One Eye with a Microscope Attached, and also a forthcoming sax/electronics album that will be out at the beginning of 2024 called Irrational Rhythms and Shifting Poles

9. Once an album of yours is released, do you still listen to it? And how often?  
Very rarely, but I think it's important to listen back every now and then to see how things sound a couple years later, or a decade later. It's interesting to see what holds up in ones own ears in order to learn about how to continue. When you are inside the project, you don't always have the same perspective as you do years later, so this is an interesting process for me.

10. Which album (from any musician) have you listened to the most in your life? 

Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan, along with all of the outtakes from that album.

11. What are you listening to at the moment? 

Ka Baird's 2019 album Respires. Second time listening in two days.

12. What artist outside music inspires you?

Andrei Tarkovsky is big for me right now. 
Reviews with Chris Pitsiokos:

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Mathieu Amalric : the Man Who Shot John Zorn

By David Cristol

French actor and director Mathieu Amalric embarked on a passionate adventure after meeting and collaborating with John Zorn onstage in 2008. They became fast friends and two years later Amalric immersed himself in the protean Zorniverse and started filming the New York-based musician and composer at concerts and festivals over a period of five years, editing the resulting sounds and images into Zorn I 2010-2016. Zorn II 2016-2018 (premiered at Lisbon’s Jazz em Agosto special Zorn edition in 2018) and Zorn III 2018-2022 (first shown at the 2022 Reflektor event in Hamburg) followed. This is a labour of love on Amalric’s part, who finds time between acting in feature films (from arthouse French cinema to international works by Julian Schnabel, David Cronenberg, Wes Anderson, Steven Spielberg, Kiyoshi Kurosawa…) and directing them (culminating with 2021’s Hold me tight) to continue this “film sans fin” (Zorn’s own words). Outside of the Marathons they were originally designed for, the movies have recently circulated in European cinema festivals, often accompanied by the director to present them to audiences. On Nov. 1 st they are getting a nationwide release in a circuit of theaters in France –on the very day Zorn gives his first Paris performance as part of a short European tour on celebration of his 70th birthday. Amalric, who lent his voice to Zorn’s 2012 Rimbaud and more recently to Song of Songs (both released on Tzadik), will be all over the concerts in Italy, France and the Netherlands (Oct. 29 to Nov. 4, 2023), to film the material which will complete Zorn IV, due to premiere in Vienna in 2024.


David Cristol: How did you come to meet John Zorn? Were you familiar with his music before your first collaboration?

Mathieu Amalric: In 2008 in Paris, John wanted to do The Song of Songs in French. Vincent Anglade, the programmer of Jazz à la Villette, gave him Clotilde Hesme's name, and mine. John knew who I was as an actor, and Vincent put us in touch. I knew a little about John's music, thanks to my sound engineer, Olivier Mauvezin. He'd played me a few tracks and I'd found it insane. I arrived, we rehearsed in the afternoon to play in the evening, and the next morning, curtain up, John was off to New York. But it so happened that director Alain Resnais was going to present Les Herbes Folles in New York a week later, and I was accompanying him on what was Resnais' last trip to this very important city for him. John had said, “Well, call me!” Well, I dared to call him when I got there, and what must have sealed this friendship – life is made up of such coincidences – was that it was Yom Kippur, probably the one day of the year when John doesn't work! Two years later, in 2010, John wrote to tell me that a TV channel, through the person in charge of cultural programming, wanted to initiate a portrait of him. It didn't work out with the prospective director, and John said “why don't you give it a try?” As soon as I said to him on the phone, “Well, maybe I'll give it a try,” he exclaimed, “Great, next week I'll be in Milan, we're having a marathon, you should come along.” I called Mauvezin and talked to Les Films du Poisson, the producers of my films, about the possibility of making a film for them. So, before filling in the forms to ask for financing, we started filming – the only time with a sound engineer – the images you'll see in Zorn I, at the Manzoni theater in Milan in 2010. Then the TV network called back to ask for the files to see if they'd accept financing. I started writing the project, preparing the paperwork, but it was boring and didn’t seem the right way to go about it. I had a Cannon 5d at the time, and a tiny Black Magic Pocket camera, with which I made C'est presque au bout du monde. So, we forget the commission altogether, and opted for complete freedom, no deadlines, no plan. When we meet, it's only in the context of the music, never in a private setting or filming him at home. Immediately, it was only about the music being made, and we kept to this framework – without it ever being mentioned, by a kind of friendship contract, in contexts where, as you know, there are no photos or cameras allowed. John feels the soul of the other person, what his music brings to a person, it's magnificent, and so there's a bond, it's as simple as that. He taught me a lot about being in the right place and asking the right questions. 

Mathieu Amalric at Jazz Em Agosto2018
© Gulbenkian Musica / Petra Cvelbar

 When we met, I took my camera and shot stuff, for five years, until 2015. One day John asks what I do with the footage. "I don't know, I make backups.” And then he had the idea, because there was the Philharmonie de Bruxelles in Paris, that "maybe we could show something!". So he initiated the whole thing, because he loves cinema so much. He loves superimposing images onto his concerts, especially when he improvises on the films of Harry Smith or other experimental filmmakers, as he did at the Musée du Judaïsme a few years ago. He also imagined that between two sets of music, a screen would come down and people would watch something, and so there was this really beautiful setting where there were images for an audience coming to listen to Zorn's music. And that's what happened. I finished Zorn I with Caroline Detournay, the editor. The first thing was to find the hard disks, and realize I had lost footage which I remembered I'd filmed. Every time I went to a country, I'd ask John who his friends were, and that's how in Israel I met the wonderful Jeremy Fogel [clarinettist and vocalist, who has two albums on Tzadik, in 2009 and 2010] , a theologian, a musician, a genius who translated the new version of "Song of Songs" into English. I filmed Jeremy in Israel but never found the footage. I lost a lot, but not everything. Fortunately, the footage I shot in Japan with Makigami Koichi was not lost, and is in the first film. The good thing was that I knew the films were going to be shown in front of Zorn enthusiasts, so I didn't need to explain anything. When you see Japan in the film, people understand why we see Japan, you don't need a voice-over saying “John Zorn lived in Japan for nine years, six months a year.” This gave me an extraordinarily free cinematic form, knowing where the films were going to be shown, in what kind of environment. After the first film Caroline and I realized that we didn't want to end there. That it didn't make sense, that it was an expanding thing. That's why we wrote “to be continued.” Of course, when the film was shown at the Philharmonie, I was also filming the images that we see in Zorn II. That's the funny thing: every time a film is shown, there are images of the next one. That is why in Zorn III we see Barbara Hannigan asking, “Is the sound going to be shown?” Yes. The first time Zorn II was shown was when you saw it in 2018. Zorn said, “why not a second one for Lisbon?” then “why not a third one for Hamburg?” ... 

Image from Zorn I (2010-2016)

This seems to suit the way he operates when setting up a band: he makes an album without thinking that it's going to be a series. Then comes the desire to surpass oneself, to set new challenges for the musicians.

Absolutely. The films are like music sets that he programs. Whether it's images or music, it's all the same. It's part of the program, when he imagines a marathon: would there be room, what could be shown? One day, we were in New York together because Serre-moi fort [feature film directed by Mathieu Amalric in 2021] was coming out in the States. We spent the day together and he simply said to me “why not a IV?”. There will be a IV, scheduled to premiere in Vienna in 2024. This gives me a deadline to continue filming and editing. Each film is only ready just before it’s shown.

Isn't it difficult for you to intersperse these adventures with your activities as an actor and director?

No, because since these films are not commissions, I don't have to think that on such and such a date, I absolutely have to be there otherwise I'll miss the event, no. What isn't on film, for me, is also part of the film. It's just by chance that at this or that moment I happen to be filming. But I don't pick up a calendar and say “John is here, I've got to go there, otherwise it's not going to be good!,” No, no, no. I have the camera in my bag, but I don’t always take it out. Because that's what's beautiful, what you don't film. And I have a feeling that the fourth film might revolve around that. When John said “why not a III for Hamburg?,” it was after lockdown, that's why in Zorn III there's nothing from 2020 and 2021, we only had exchanges online, recorded the vocals with Barbara for "Song of Songs" [released on Tzadik as a limited edition in 2022] from home. I could have filmed that. But that would have been forced. As soon as I feel it's forced, I don't do it. And now I've got more experience with saving images, I know not to lose anything. We get together with Caroline, we look at the rushes, and then we say, well, that's funny, what you filmed was obviously more about that, or it seems to be more about this, and that's how the films take a direction, which isn't decided beforehand. When I'm shooting, I don't know that the heart of the film is going to be this or that, no, it's when we look at all the images and sound that we realize there's something that seems to sum up all John's work through a single piece of music for example, as happened with “Jumalaterret.” That's when I remembered the e-mail exchanges between John and Barbara, since I'm lucky enough to live with her. I experienced her anguish, it's all in the movie, I play on exaggeration a little. In the film, you might think it was a year-long correspondence, but in fact it only lasted a day and a half. The dates are told, I was having fun remaking “Rocky I”, so that the viewer would wonder was she going to make it? I can't even tell you what IV is going to be. But what I felt when I filmed in Hamburg, where III was shown, what I realized when I saved the images, without even looking at them, was that my pleasure was to be in the audience. In other words, I was fed up with filming work. I wanted to hear the music. So maybe that'll be a lead. As if, after 13 years, I had finally become a listener, a spectator!

When I did Zorn I, it was a kind of admiration trip, the wonder of a guy who's been lucky enough to be thrown into a musical constellation and can't come back, it's just music in every sense. For II, I couldn't continue this exercise, it had to be a study of his music, hence John's words written on the screen, a melancholier mood than the first, where we perceive a more solitary man. And the third had to be very different too. So I said, let's do some exegesis, and let's start from a piece of music. That's why I edited the film with the score; I know how to read scores since I learned music in my youth. When editing the film, I had the score, and I wanted it to be sharable, and the more precise you can be, the more universal it can be. I felt that people could understand and feel it that way. And that's what happened with III, at the screening at Cinéma du Réel, where for the first time people didn’t come to listen to John's music, but rather to a documentary film festival. Most of them had never heard of John Zorn. I was afraid and told the organizers “I don't think people will be interested, these films are only made for concerts, for the fans.” But they told me not to worry. Initially, we were going to show them on the occasion of John doing a concert at Beaubourg at the same time, and because of Covid that couldn't happen. But the cinema's programmer confirmed her desire to “show the Zorns”. And we had the screening, three days before the event at the Elbphilarmonie in Hamburg. I was so scared that I was drinking at the bar thinking people would leave the theater, anxious and regretting to have agreed to the screening. Barbara found me, I was sobbing “no, why did I do that, they're bored, they won't understand, it's not for them, they don't give a shit” ... And then... it was madness. We’d just finished III the day before, I worked a lot on the subtitles to make them musically precise. Barbara discovered the film in front of a full house, and the people were jumping all over the theater. Since then, people have been telling me that these films should be shared, that it goes beyond the music. 

Image from Zorn II (2016-2018)

I've witnessed this at the screening of II in Lisbon: the large auditorium was packed, admission was free, people having no idea about Zorn came to see what it was about and it was clear that the energy emanating from the movie was reaching beyond the circle of the connoisseurs, provoking strong emotions in the audience, making the music accessible to those who wouldn't know which way to approach it, the visual dimension giving a glimpse of the processes at work, whatever the style tackled.

Yes, that's it! Because the films feed off John's energy and philosophy, it's incredible, it's magical... [very moved]. On III for example, this music that seems very difficult, I knew that the fact of going back to the workbench, of starting the same moment again, of feeling technically exactly what they were looking for together, with such joy, an absence of seriousness that is extraordinary, that's when we felt looking at the rushes that in fact this moment of rehearsal in the Gulbenkian room was going to be the heart of the film. People began to love this music, and it's important to remember that, as I knew it would be screened just before the “Jumalaterret” concert, I didn't want people to have everything either... I wanted them to be hungry! I was designing the film for people who would then have an appetite for listening to the live piece right afterwards. 

Image from Zorn II (2016-2018)

You film the musicians - Barbara Hannigan, John Zorn and his troupe with obvious passion. Given the diversity of the corpus over the years, was there a particular concert, record or moment that triggered your interest? Do you keep up with new releases?

I can tell you the first piece of John's music I ever heard. It's a funny way to start. It was during the shooting of Un homme un vrai [2003] by the Larrieu brothers, where Olivier Mauvezin was the sound engineer. Olivier also does all my films. We were having drinks in his room, he'd put on some music, and one moment I heard something, and I asked what it was, it was really good, and so the first music I heard from John was The Gift. So you see, well, it's sort of John for dummies, you know, the one where he's having fun doing easy listening, and I have to admit that, as it's the first John record I've listened to, I've got a Proust's madeleine feeling for The Gift, in which I now hear a lot of complexities, poly-texts, treasures. Olivier put it on because we were dancing, it was a cool atmosphere. Immediately afterwards, he made me listen to Naked City and Kristallnacht. I'm not someone who can quote albums or song names. But what I heard blew me away. A guy who does that, and who also does this, wow, my jaw dropped. And I love that I haven't yet heard all of John's music, I love that idea. He gave me two more records recently in New York. I got hooked on John's music in 2008 at Jazz à la Villette and then when he came back to Paris in 2013 [on the occasion of his 60th birthday marathon] . At the time, I was young and brave, I went on the stage with the camera, among the musicians and all. When recording Rimbaud, there's a moment when John takes the camera and films me. It happened, really, just like that, bang! Nothing premeditated. It’s in the film, as you will see. 

Image from Zorn III (2018-2022)

Are shoots improvised, with no location scouting or shooting plans? Or do you prepare the filming according to the works to be performed and the context and configuration of the venues? Does filming music involve new shooting techniques, adapted to each situation?

Oh yes, totally improvised. No preparation, nothing at all, nothing. I don't need anything, no technicians, I make do with what's there, so yes, that means adapting techniques. Little by little I perfected them, I now shoot with a Lumix GH5, I bought two X Voigtländer lenses, which open to 0.9, they're photo lenses that allow me to quickly shoot in the dark. I like using fixed lenses because they force me to get closer or further away, whereas zooming isn't the same thing. I like having fixed lenses so I can see how close I can get, and I've also improved my sound, which means that I now have four sound sources. On II I already had a PCM, an h1, three sound sources. I move them around depending on what's going on.

Did you ever work with Zorn's sound engineer Marc Urselli?

No. Marc, whom we see quite often in the picture, doesn't record concerts anymore, it's been over for a long time, live music isn't recorded anymore, John doesn't want to. This philosophy that opens II with the sentence “It will never happen again,” I find magnificent. No recording, it’s only for the people who were there and will have the memory of the concert. So the sounds recorded are mine. But when John played the white organ in II for example, in Paris, he was very happy during the rehearsals so he said maybe tonight I'd record it, it would be nice to have a trace, and he said could you call your friend? I called Olivier, and Olivier came and recorded the concert, the improvisation at midnight on the organ, and gave the tapes to John. And that gave me a good sound for the organ moments. Now I manage quite well, and above all I work with a sound editor, Sylvain Malbrant, and a mixer, so that in the end we have something bearable from a sound point of view. Then there are all the mistakes and accidents, for example in III, when Stephen Gosling drops the microphone, I lost all the sounds from before, which are only recorded by the camera. We manage.

You maintain a raw quality without creating a gap between what we see and what we hear. There are so many films where the sounds and images don't work together.

These tools are incredible, between the camera mic, which is a very good mic now, and the sound sources. And I asked for advice, found stands and tools to hang my gear, and it doesn't matter whether these tools are seen in the picture, you can see the microphones, I play with that, it allows me to have a close source, a more distant source, and then in the sound editing and mixing they manage to create rich textures.

Did you think about also getting on camera the works in which you take part as a narrator, such as Song of Songs in Hamburg?

This live performance was a first time, so I was hoping not to screw up, that's all. I didn't think at all about filming. 

Image from Zorn III (2018-2022)

Did you have any references in terms of musical films?

Not really, you have to be in the moment, it's really a dance, I like the physical side of the moment when you're filming, trying not to miss the focus too much, thinking at the same time to place the microphones in the right place depending on what's going on. It's not a question of reference at all, but rather of breathing together with the musicians. That's what guides me. It's extremely physical, very sensual. That's the state I'm in.

The music influences the way you capture it.

That's it. Then editing is different. When it comes to editing, the notion of bringing up a good show comes into play. Since you're offering something to be seen, how can it be shared? There are notions of boredom, interest, emotion and so on. In the first instance, I'd say my reference is John's own music. That is, polyphony, collage, Godard, speed, poetry, haiku and so on. I'm talking about Zorn references, Artaud, Spillane, Duchamp… 

Image from Zorn III (2018-2022)

Has Zorn seen the films and given you his opinion?

He's seen them, but he doesn't comment on them or ask for them to be cut. I'm the one who asks him to watch them, “please, I need you to watch them, John!” He doesn’t want to. I trick him into watching them by telling him I need him to check some technical things, to avoid mistakes. And so he sees the films before they are completely finished. But there's never been any request for a change. I can't tell you how moving the letters he sends me when he sees the films are. Sublime, because it's the freedom of the other, it's the opposite of copyright or censorship, of the right of inspection... Nothing! It's friendship. Similarly, in his relationship with musicians, what he says about Cobra in III is that he doesn't write for himself, but for the moment when the audience receives this thing and thinks “what the fuck?”, and appropriates it, the music process becomes you. And so that's what it's about, I'm the one who works hard to get him to look at it! On II, it was easier because there were lyrics, and I really wanted him to like them. That's the only time we talked about what would look best on screen. But on III nothing at all. I was very worried about III because, in the end, it's an extremely intimate film, especially the choice of e-mails; I asked John if I could use them because I felt it could be very beautiful, and he immediately gave me all the e-mails. And then I wondered if it would be interesting to ask “John, read me your e-mails with your voice, Barbara, read me the e-mails with your voice,” but I thought that the right place would be for me to read the e-mails. So we tried like that, and found that it worked, with me reading their e-mails.

It has a special resonance with the fact that you're the one who brought them together.

That's not true! That's what John says, and what he wrote in the presentation of Song of Songs, but it's not true. I didn't do anything. In fact, I don't remember. When I said to John, “I'm happy, I've met this crazy chick and I don't know how it's possible that this bombshell is in love with me,” he said, “Wait a minute, this chick is a killer, I know her!” The truth is, they knew each other's music. They'd been circling around each other for a long time. They knew of each other's existence. In Zorn I we already see Barbara, at the Stone in the audience... I'm glad to have footage from the old Stone in I

Barbara Hannigan and Mathieu Amalric at the  Reflektor Festival
Photo (c) Daniel Dittus

Do you enjoy accompanying screenings and meeting audiences? Since you've screened them in places as diverse as Japan and Lapland, are the reactions very different each time?

Jacky Evrard, who created Côté court au Cinéma de Pantin, a festival of short films, under the aegis of André Labarthe, did two screenings. Ah! Let me digress. At some point, while editing, I thought that if it could have the beauty of the portraits Labarthe made of all those filmmakers and dancers he filmed, so if you want a reference, there you go, Labarthe. In Lapland, we only showed III, because we were in Finland. There were lots of musicians there. In Japan, there was Makigami Koichi and next year he's organizing a Cobra session at a little music festival he set up in Atami, the town where he was born, where I was recently, there was an improvisation with Jim O'Rourke and Eiko Ishibashi [composer of the film "Drive my Car"] , and so I filmed it there and maybe it'll be in the IV. There's a sublime moment when Jim O'Rourke tells me about his meeting with John, and well, I didn't take the camera, because, I don't know how to tell you, you're there, the guy's telling you something, we’re smoking outside, the camera is inside. I'm not going to tell him “wait, stop, I'll get my camera.” It's not the same thing. John told me something about his work with Jack Smith, who was a man of experimental theater. Jack Smith had asked John to take a camera and John thought there was film in it. After a while, the camera started making a funny noise, and he realized that in fact there was no film in it, and Smith said, well, that's the beauty of it. And that's where John got the idea for what he's doing with the “theatre of musical optics”.

There's a short video on YouTube where he talks about this aspect of his work.

Yes. And you know what? John directed this video. Ah ah ah! Yep! Wait until you see IV. When Jim O'Rourke was very young, he was 23, he'd arrived in New York from Chicago with his Irish parents, he was living with his mother, and John, who'd heard Jim's music, called him on the phone and offered him a musical collaboration, and there was Jim's mother speaking in the background, and Zorn asked who’s that voice? And Jim says “that's my mother.” And John says “wait, you live with your parents? Oh no, that's not possible. You've got to get out of here, you're not living with your parents, how old are you?” And John gave him money to leave his parents' house. 

John Zorn. Image from Zorn I (2010-2016)

 Could Zorn III be seen as a sequel to C'est presque au bout du monde [It’s almost at the end of the earth], in which you filmed Barbara Hannigan's physical, sensual and transcendent singing?

No, I didn't imagine it that way. On the contrary, I was careful not to repeat myself. There's just one thing in common: at the very end of the film, we hear the same sound Barbara makes when she begins to warm up her voice, in a wide shot, but that's all. But in any case, Zorn III wasn't a film about Barbara, either during shooting or editing. The editor and I felt that Barbara was a vehicle through which we could talk about John. Barbara was like a witness, if I dare say, to an initiation for a newcomer to the Zorn world, allowing us to tell what other musicians have told you about working with Zorn. In this case, Barbara served as my gateway to Zorn-universe, in terms of the musical process between the composer and the performer. And there's a narrative structure that emerges, each part has titles. I had filmed Barbara at the New Morning listening to Zorn in Paris, when he couldn’t play at Pleyel and retreated to the New Morning at the last minute. Barbara received the music, she was ecstatic. Barbara is like Voltaire’s Candide character, a stranger who has landed in an unfamiliar world. How will she use her hatchet to conquer the branches of the jungle, defeat the wild beasts and manage to ... well, manage to make it! It was very important to strike the right balance so that the film didn't come across as being about Barbara. The title is Zorn III, not Hannigan I. We see more of her on screen, but she's obsessed with John. In the film, while Barbara is working, John is also working. He's on tour, he's with other musicians... The first time we see them together in the same shot is forty minutes into the film. It's the western aspect of the film: when are they going to face each other? It's built like that, like a suspense story, from the e-mails to the rehearsal. They meet at the first rehearsal. And then he laughs, and she's scared. And he takes away her fear. It's a film about their relationship, starting from a distance during lockdown. I cut out all the moments when Barbara made jokes directed at me. Whereas in C'est presque au bout du monde we see on camera the moment we fall in love, we are living our encounter. In Zorn III, I barely kept a glance at the camera. 

Image from Zorn III (2018-2022)

How do you manage to intersperse these shoots between your various projects as director and actor?

It's gymnastics sometimes. When I was shooting Les fantômes d'Ismaël in 2017, I really wanted to go see Zorn, even if it meant sleeping in a rented car in Basel outside the airport because there were no hotel rooms left in the area.

Which dimension do you prefer in Zorn's work? Is there a part of his work that particularly appeals to you, another to which you return less, yet another that intrigues you without having found the key?

I cannot isolate one part of his work that touches me more than another. It's an expanding world where nothing is impossible. I don't have a favorite thing. Sometimes I like The Gift for the melodies, and when I hear Necronomicon for string quartet, I go in a trance. And then I want to listen to a concert with the screams of Yamatsuka Eye. I love Ribot's guitar, there is a song that I love deeply in volume 21 of Filmworks, Belle de nature, the tune 'Orties cuisantes,' it's very soft and then it's four minutes of Hendrix-style guitar solo. Sometimes I put this song on and dance by myself. That's why I put a brief shot with Barbara and an electric guitar, in our house in Brittany. A shot of private life, filmed on an iPhone, but which fits into the subject of the film. I have this guitar because I had to learn to play it for my role in Tralala by the Larrieu brothers. I also really like the album dedicated to Maya Deren, the three versions of Kyiv with a preference for the piano one. John's themes are so strong that one wonders if they didn't exist before him. It’s like with the Beatles or Bach, how can we imagine that these pieces haven’t existed forever? They were there before Earth was created. And I have to mention the Ennio Morricone tribute album, which is the record through which a lot of people had access to Zorn. I also like the care taken in the design and manufacturing of the records, and I filmed things that I almost included in III but which will probably be in IV, the process of making the records, the beauty of these objects, Zorn being present at every stage, from the concept to the choice of materials and inks for the covers.

In the credits of Barbara (2017), we find accordionist Vincent Peirani. Your films often have a relationship to the world of music; either directly through their subject, or as an expression of the characters' emotions (Hold me tight).

When there was the screening at the Cinéma du Réel, I wondered which musicians would be happy to see this. I called Vincent. He's on the road all the time, but came to see the three films. You should have seen Vincent's face in front of the films! He knew Zorn, musically. It had an effect on him, he was in a state of impossible joy and desire to continue making music. I had also invited Michel Portal but he was unable to come.

What is your musical background? Are you a musician yourself?

I lived in Moscow with my journalist parents until I was twelve and I learned music, that's why I read scores, which was useful in editing III. I play the piano… when I'm alone. With Barbara, I am immersed in music. I realized afterwards that the fact of having filmed Barbara and John for twelve years has, without me realizing it, influenced the way in which I conceive the narration for fiction films. I noticed this on “Hold me tight”, where there is almost no dialogue and where the narration passes through other means and sounds. 

Image from Zorn III (2018-2022)

What is your favorite musical film (documentary or fiction)?

A real musical shock was Get Back, Peter Jackson's film about the Beatles, broadcast on Disney +. Didn't you see it? You are crazy. It's the most beautiful thing that exists in the world. It lasts nine hours and is constructed from images filmed in 1969 over the 25 days of the creation of the last Beatles album, until the last concert on the roof. I kept taking breaks because I couldn't believe it. And that fueled me for Zorn III. This nourished my awareness that we could make time an element of the work. I allowed myself to do a very long scene where they don't leave the room. Like Hitchcock! The rehearsal scene lasts around 35 minutes. I dared to do this after seeing Get Back. On Zorn I the scenes are very short and on II they are quite short but there was also Zorn’s reflection on what it means to be a musician today. What does a musician do today? He has to take care of money, organization, improvisation, putting people together, performing, traveling, everything. Maybe a bit like Bach. It was necessary to address all these aspects and reflect them in the images of travel, shared meals, etc. There are wrinkles in this film, moments of solitude, and a lot of shots of drummers, Tyshawn Sorey, Joey Baron and the others.

Do you like accompanying the screenings of these films, meeting the spectators?

We had a screening in Tokyo, at an extraordinary avant-garde festival in Shibuya. And then we did another screening, in a small café in Kyoto with a debate, more intimate, for sixty people. I think John would have loved this. There were a lot of people who were crazy about John's music, in Japan. In Tokyo it was special because there was vocalist Makigami Koichi, whom I hadn't seen for a long time and who was discovering Zorn III. And he wrote to John to inquire if he could show the films at the next edition, and Zorn said “go ahead, show all of them”.

Once the films are finished, do you ever re-edit them?

Not at all. Only subtitle errors that I need to correct. I try to avoid nostalgia. In Lisbon, I filmed very beautiful moments where we were doing the sound and image tests at the Gulbenkian for the Zorn II projection in the large auditorium, and then I decided not to include all that in the III. Each time must be from the present and new images. There is not one similar image between the three films...

Would you like Zorn to write a soundtrack for one of your films?

Absolutely. It could happen. But it’s something that needs to be created from the start. I would have to write the film with background music already composed from a story that I would have told him... The writing of the screenplay would really be done once he had composed the music. We talk about it. He was very disappointed by the way the directors used the music he had composed for them. The musical dimension of my cinema is present before I start writing the script. For Hold me tight, Debussy was already there, Rameau was already there. They are the ones who give me the right tone. Even for Eat your soup it’s Glenn Gould’s interpretation of the Gigue that inspired my way of filming, of detaching myself from the autobiographical aspect. It’s not when I’ve finished that I think “hey, it would be nice to put some music there,” no, no. The music is there from the start.

Image from Zorn II (2016-2018)

For more information about the films (in French) see here



Electric Masada – 50th Birthday Celebration Volume Four (Tzadik, 2004)

Masada – 50th Birthday Celebration Volume Seven (Tzadik, 2004)

John Zorn – There Is No More Firmament (Tzadik, 2017)

John Zorn – Moonchild (Tzadik, 2006)

Ben Goldberg Quartet – Baal: Book of Angels vol. 15 (Tzadik, 1999)

Mark Feldman & Sylvie Courvoisier – Malphas: Book Of Angels Vol. 3 (Tzadik, 2006)

Cyro Baptista – Banquet of the Spirits (Tzadik, 2008)

John Zorn – Rimbaud (Tzadik, 2012)

Electric Masada – At the Mountains of Madness (Tzadik, 2005)

Makigami Koichi – Koedarake (Tzadik, 2005)

Masada – Live in Sevilla (Tzadik, 2000)

John Zorn – The Big Gundown (Tzadik, 2000)

Banquet of the Spirits: The Book Beri'ah Vol 9 — Yesod (Tzadik, 2019)

Masada - Volumes I – X (DIW 1994-97) ; 10-CD Boxset Reissue (Tzadik, 2023)

John Zorn – Valentine’s Day (Tzadik, 2014)

John Zorn – Simulacrum (seven albums on Tzadik, 2015-2020)

John Zorn – Madrigals (Tzadik, 2016)

Julian Lage & Gyan Riley – The Book Beri'ah Vol 4 – Chesed (Tzadik, 2019)

John Zorn – The String Quartets (Tzadik, 1999)

John Zorn – Filmworks vol 1-26 (Tzadik, 1997-2008)

John Zorn – O’o (Tzadik, 2009)

John Zorn – Cobra (Tzadik, 2002)

John Zorn – The Hermetic Organ volumes 1-10 (Tzadik, 2012-2022)

John Zorn and Thurston Moore – “@” (Tzadik, 2013)

Ikue Mori – Bagatelles Vol.4 (Tzadik, 2021)

Trigger – Bagatelles Vol.3 (Tzadik, 2021)

Asmodeus – Bagatelles Vol. 9 (Tzadik, 2022)

Peter Evans – Bagatelles Vol. 14 (Tzadik, 2023)

John Zorn – Nove Cantici Per Francesco d’Assisi (Tzadik, 2019)

John Medeski Trio – Bagatelles Vol. 8 (Tzadik, 2021)