New York — Question: Where is the art-rock scene heading? Answer: toward both the future and the past, at a speedy clip. And in both directions at the same time.
I heard evidence for this idea in two concerts held recently at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in its respected ``Next Wave'' festival. Although they couldn't have been more different in most ways, both showed a determination to blend the traditional and the trendy in new and unexpected ways.
Jon Hassell, a trumpeter, uses the phrase ``fourth world'' to decribe his music. It draws on his training in many styles - from Indian to electronic and minimalist - in an attempt to fuse the primitive and the progressive.
Flanked by percussionist J.A. Deane and synthesizer expert Richard Horowitz, he based the evening on rhythms and polyrhythms that had a consistently primal feeling, often evoking African moods and textures. Over this fundamental layer, though, he wove a complex tapestry of sounds that were generated by (or, in the case of his own trumpet, altered by) electronic means.
Despite the urgency of its rhythms, the result was highly cerebral in tone; Hassell is definitely a thinking person's musician. And he has hit on a promising pathway in his quest for an old-new, East-West, stripped-down-sophisticated sound.
John Zorn, a saxophonist, also wants to bring diverse elements together - only his pathway leads through the thickets of New York's ``new wave'' scene. His concert at BAM was called ``Once Upon a Time in the East Village,'' and it featured a platoon of Manhattan's (allegedly) hippest musicians in 100 minutes of music based on classic ``spaghetti western'' themes by Italian movie-score composer Ennio Morricone, a longtime associate of filmmaker Sergio Leone.
Mr. Zorn and Mr. Morricone are an unlikely marriage, and their progeny were equally so: 10 partly scored, partly improvised numbers with titles like ``Erotico'' and ``The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.'' Yet it was a lively show, full of traditional Saturday-matinee moods wearing modernist, free-form clothing.
Dressed in a T-shirt with the word ``bones'' emblazoned across the back, Zorn guided his orchestra of 20 musicians (plus a guest ensemble) through his zany arrangements of Morricone's tunes - sometimes really conducting, other times just tossing cues across the stage. Occasionally a recognizable tune would emerge from the din, and players would follow it for a while, and then it would go away. More often the music was a polyphonic potpourri of riffs and whims, with a western-movie flavor that was as tasty as it was vague.
Listeners can check out Hassell's current sound on ``Power Spot,'' a new ECM record that includes some of the BAM concert material. Zorn's latest album is, sure enough, ``The Big Gundown,'' a Morricone collection on the Nonesuch label.