Monday, December 22, 2008

John Zorn: Cobra

Cobra is a musical game created by the jazz artist John Zorn.

Cobra's rules are complex, but basically, a director leads an ensemble of improvisational musicians with a series of hand signals and cue cards.The resulting music can be described as free jazz. The form is entirely conceived on the spot by the director and interpretations vary from musician to musician and from performance to performance so each game of Cobra is unique.

There are also rules to make the game more interesting. Each player wears a headband somewhere on their body. Players can usurp control of the ensemble by stealing other players headbands. The 'guerrilla' leader has complete control over the music until power is taken from him. These aspects to the game can make for an interesting stage show.

There are several recordings of this game available.
This is an album cover for a recording from 1992.

Here is a sample of John Zorn conducting a game of Cobra.

This is a great version from a performance in Israel in January of 2008.

This music would likely be catgorized as unlistenable by the average person, but to jazz fanatics and musicians this is the coolest thing around. It throws the traditional concept of form out the window. It takes improvisation in a new direction.

There have been a few incarnations of Cobra ensembles in Morgantown WV over the years. Many sessions have been directed by WVU jazzer Paul Scea. This is a recording of a performance on the Morgantown Sound show from 1999. Thanks to Orville Weale for making this available.

cobra_ensemble - Deborah Voigt and Placido Domingo

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Roger Dean

The art of Roger Dean could be described as wonderous, fantastic and even trance inducing.

His art is most famous for the album covers he created in the late 60's and 70's, the most notable of which were designed for the English progressive rock band Yes.

Roger Dean was born in Kent, England in 1944. He studied at the Royal College of Art Furniture School and gained notoriety for his architectural and furniture designs.

He is also known for designing the Retreat Pod

His album art gave Yes albums a signature look and he was soon doing stage design for the band.

Roger Dean continued doing album cover art for Yes, Asia and many other bands through the 1990s and 2000s and has published several books. You can see more artwork and designs at

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Friday, December 5, 2008

Word Jazz

Word Jazz is an art form that combines beat style poetry and free form jazz or electronic music. Word Jazz was created by the popular TV and radio voice over artist, Ken Nordine. Ken Nordine's name may be obscure but his voice is unmistakable. Nordine's voice has been in thousands of TV and radio spots since the 1950s.

The classic album, Sounds In Space, is narrated by Ken Nordine

Nordine's prose is surreal and often employs multiple characters. In his early work He is backed up by small jazz ensembles such as the Fred Katz group. Later on he is often backed up by electronic music or live improvisational musicians.

Upper Limbo is a live performance in which Ken recites over improvisational music, the album features harmonica great Howard Levy.

My first exposure to Ken Nordine and Word Jazz was The Devout Catalyst which was released on the Grateful Dead's record label. This is a very bizarre album in which Nordine collaborates with Jerry Garcia on acoustic guitar and David Grisman on mandolin.

If you don't know the name Ken Nordine take a listen and I think you might recognize the voice.


The Nervous system

The Essence of S

Check out Ken's website at