Editor Evan Haga Introduces the November 2013 Issue

Sound Art with John Zorn

Typically, this space is where I explain the issue’s theme or deconstruct some overarching idea that threads through its features. Tootie Heath, Gerald Cleaver, Steve Gadd, Billy Hart, Lenny White: In case you just picked up JT in the hippest waiting room ever, this is the November drum issue. For this column, I’d like to take a detour and simply discuss a fantastic day of music. It’s up to you to draw the connections to the magazine in your hands; I can’t really do it because the event I’m referring to was so distinctive.

On Saturday, Sept. 28, John Zorn continued his ongoing 60th-birthday activities with a 10-plus-hour program that moved throughout the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. Zorn is no stranger to marathons, but there was something particularly ambitious and beautiful about this Met run. It strengthened his reputation as a composer of mighty range and a cultural lodestar of New York.

Starting around 10 a.m. with a trumpet fanfare that pressed consonance against chaos in the man’s trademark fashion, “Zorn at the Met” was organized and enthusiastically attended. Guides armed with programs and matching T-shirts led fans to concerts that began at the top of each hour in sharply chosen locations throughout the museum; Zorn mostly just followed along, absorbing the music but deflecting the admiration toward the artists performing his scores.

At the Temple of Dendur, guitarist Bill Frisell, harpist Carol Emanuel and Kenny Wollesen (on vibraphone) interpreted Zorn’s Gnostic Preludes, which relish melody like some hybrid of contemporary chamber music and midcentury instrumental pop. Surrounded by Assyrian art, cellist Erik Friedlander brandished his guitaristic pizzicato technique and bowed masterfully through Masada material. At 2 p.m., for a crowd that spread well beyond the sightlines, Zorn himself offered 20 minutes of tireless free improvisation alongside drummer Milford Graves. The backdrop was a giant Pollock canvas, part of the museum’s regular collection. It was an audio-visual hookup even the wealthiest arena-trotting rock act couldn’t beat.