John Zorn's Cobra | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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John Zorn's Cobra


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Cobra stands as the most accomplished of saxophonist/composer John Zorn's "game pieces," his series of fully improvised works shaped by preestablished but fluctuating "rules." In these works a "prompter" (Zorn's version of a traditional orchestra's conductor) controls the general direction of the performance with visual cues that mandate stylistic shifts, various combinations of musicians, and other group interactions, and the performances have a reputation for great visual excitement. But the players are equally or perhaps even more important to a given performance's end result than the prompter. A 1985 recording on the Swiss Hot Art label offered two utterly distinct versions of Cobra, and over the years New York's Knitting Factory has been producing monthly performances of the work with ever-changing participants, selected portions of which are being released on a dense, wildly diverse double CD this spring. Using combinations of more than 100 different musicians, the excerpts compose a cogent patchwork, from blurts of noise to humor-laden passages to smears of jazz. The group assembled for this performance is a somewhat rock-touched bunch that includes the bonescraping guitar of Marc Ribot, who's played with Tom Waits and Elvis Costello and leads his own hot combo; electric harpist Zeena Parkins, who's capable of unleashing both ungodly barrages of thick, choking sounds and beautifully ephemeral waves of aural lace; keyboardists/sampling fiends Anthony Coleman and David Weinstein; turntable terrorist David Shea; multifaceted percussionist William Winant; and flve others. Zorn will be the prompter. Monday, 7.30 PM, the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffleld; 472-0449 or 559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michel Delsol.

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