All Zorn All The Time at Lisbon Festival


LISBON – With its focus on the music of John Zorn, the 35th annual Jazz em Agosto festival of free jazz and improvised music gets underway this weekend with two sold-out concerts in which he plays alto saxophone – an indication of his impact on the experimental scene.

This Special Edition is the first time the festival focuses entirely on one musician, a tribute to Zorn’s continuing influence as a leader, composer, cultural entrepreneur and pioneer, who pushes the boundaries and erases walls in the quest for an expansive aesthetic. Tickets are available for a third concert Sunday in which Zorn plays the first instrument he learned, pipe organ, accompanied by Ikue Mori on laptop.

Zorn, who turns 65 September 2, likes to celebrate his milestones along with the coterie of like-minded and bold performers who either play and create from his charts or are inspired by Zorn’s example and commitment. He did it five summers ago in his Zorn @ 60 series, he has celebrated his Bagatelles series of 300 short compositions with a concentrated group of concerts, and another legacy event is about to unfold.

“Zornites,” as his musical collaborators are called, are a veritable who’s who in the avant world. In previous Zorn concerts I’ve attended, the energy level and creative drive have been off the charts. When he isn’t performing, Zorn often conducts or sits near the mixing board appearing to follow every note.

In explaining the focus on Zorn, festival organizers say his work has become a soundtrack for the times.

Scheduled to perform in the 18 concerts over 11 days are such masterful musicians as guitarists Marc Ribot, Trevor Dunn, Julian Lage, Gyan Riley, and Mary Halverson; bassists Drew Gress and Greg Cohen; drummers Joey Baron, Kenny Wollosen, and Tomas Fujiwara; pianist/organist John Medeski, Craig Taborn, and rising star Kris Davis; and Electronics wizard Ikue Mori. Some are featured in several concerts.

The setting for the main concerts is the open-air, 950-seat amphitheater, part of the Gulbenkian Foundation cluster of museums and exhibition spaces in the 19-acre Gulbenkian Park. It is sponsored by the Gulbenkian Foundation. Rui Neves curates the festival.

A series of films on Zorn or music that relates to his legacy is also on tap.

For the full schedule: