A slightly edited version of this review was published in
the NYC Jazz Record NY@Night column, November 2018
JOHN ZORN’S ANGELS QUARTET
Oct 7, 2017, Village Vanguard, New York NY
Performance review by John Pietaro
Village Vanguard steps (courtesy, NPR)
The Sunday afternoon sky burned bright over the West Village, but an informed portion of those on 7th Avenue South crowded readily into a certain darkened basement of note (10/7). The draw was the Angels Quartet and its masterful expansion of Zorn’s 2004 Masada Project, that already expansive fusion of Jewish musical traditions, free funk and new jazz. Throughout its compelling set, the Quartet’s interplay was marked with a celebratory, perhaps holiday, collegiality and laughter that belied the Vanguard’s noir-like décor. The downtown sound was alive, well and wielding klezmer-fueled collective improv, meter shifts, melodic minors, bouncing repetitions, hora accents and a bit of klangfarbenmelodie. Zorn’s artfully distressed alto wailed over the exquisite leads of guitarist Julian Lage who proved again why he’s first-call for so many of these gigs. Lage’s utter command of his ax and ability to tear into complex melodies as easily as reckless abandon is all the more admirable by his spy and surf guitar mastery. The rhythm section of fluid bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Kenny Wolleson was on fire throughout. Wolleson can do anything behind a kit and here rolled out the hippest bossa novas (with samba bottoms) and coolest free jazz. Like butter.
For all the warmth onstage, Zorn’s circumspect approach was on high guard afterward when we hoped for a brief interview, rejected soundly and none too kindly. But the sun continued shining in spite of this and, climbing up the Vanguard’s historic steps, we still grooved on the leftover good vibes.