Live reviews

John Zorn’s ‘The Bagatelles’ at City University

John Zorn’s The Bagatelles

(Performance Space, City, University of London. 11 April 2022. Review and top photo by Peter Slavid)

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‘The Bagatelles’ at City University

The name of John Zorn tends to elicit extreme reactions from jazz fans. For some, he’s one of the greatest of jazz composers and producers of our time…for others, his music is just too darned difficult and dissonant. And both are, to some extent, right. Maybe the negative reactions need to be tempered, however. Although Zorn himself is a challengingly fierce free improviser, and many of the bands he invites to play his music are the same – his composing is far from extreme. His melodies are often simple, they’re pretty, sometimes they can even be a bit cheesy. But what they do is to create an environment which inspires improvisers.

In 2015 Zorn composed 300 new tunes that were eventually collected into a book of music he called The Bagatelles. He invited a number of groups and individuals to create music based on these compositions and amongst them was his long-term collaborator Sam Eastmond.

Photo of poster courtesy of Peter Freeman

This free event in the small, socially distanced City University performance space, was described as part-gig, part-workshop, part work in progress – but none of that showed. It helped that Eastmond had gathered together an outstanding collection of musicians who played his tricky arrangements with real gusto and enjoyment. He manages to create some delicious harmonies from the four-brass, four-sax front line, as well as plenty of equally impressive dissonances. The music is certainly complex, but always with a driving rhythm behind it that had the audience tapping their feet even in the fiercest of improvised sections..

Each of the musicians (full list below) made strong individual improvised solos, as well as contributing to the ferocious collective improvisations.

This was the first UK outing for this music, and if it was still work in progress there’s no doubt how impressive the final version will be. This is all part of Zorn’s overall vision for his Bagatelle project, and at some stage Sam Eastmond will get the music recorded, and we can look forward to hearing the end-result.

After the show. L-R: Charlotte Keeffe, Moss Freed, Sam Eastmond.
Photo courtesy of Peter Freeman

Peter Slavid broadcasts a programme of European Jazz on and various internet stations


  • Sam Eastmond Conductor & Arranger
  • Chris Williams Alto Sax
  • Asha Parkinson & Emma Rawicz Tenor Saxes
  • Mick Foster Baritone Sax
  • Noel Langley & Charlotte Keeffe Trumpets
  • Joel Knee Trombone
  • Jeff Miller Tuba
  • Moss Freed Guitar
  • Olly Chalk Piano
  • Fergus Quill Bass
  • Alasdair Pennington Drums

LINK: John Zorn at LondonJazz News

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