Bezique is the last game piece Zorn conceived, and by his own admission in introducing the piece, "it's very strange." It differs from other pieces in that the players - the musicians involved - create the settings ahead of time rather than while they are playing. As a result, more coherent musical statements are made without losing the structured improvisations that can make the game pieces so rewarding.
The game pieces in general are interesting not just because of the music that's made, the characters they bring out or the mystery in which they're kept. They predate what could be called Zorn's "index card" period, and seem to have informed it. After creating a series of situations where he could hear styles, genres and moods crashing into each other, he began to use it as a formula for composing and arranging, most notably on the album The Big Gundown and the piece Spillane. Beziques was written in 1989, just two years before Spillane was recorded, and combines the tools of the game pieces with a compositional approach.
Each of the 11 players (Trevor Dunn, 5-string electric bass; Anthony Coleman, Farfisa organ; Sylvie Courvoisier, piano; Marc Ribot, guitar; Jim Publiese and William Winant, percussion; Jim Staley, trombone; Mark Dresser, bass; Okkyung Lee, cello; Mark Feldman, violin; and Jamie Saft, Fender Rhodes, synthesizer and effects) got a turn creating a piece, calling out a series of directives ("EP1, Ribot; M7, Courvoisier, Lee, Winant; EP3-1...") while a "gaffer" played interlude music. It was reminiscent of Duke Ellington's idea that he writes for individual musicians, except purely that, without scores. Zorn would write down the directives that he would then guide them through by holding up his familiar cue cards, and reminding the arranger of rules and trying to keep an overall cohesion between pieces. "The hardest thing is coming out of Ts," he reminded the group more than once. "You can't just write a whole piece and think it's gonna work," he told them later. "You gotta think about the piece that came before it. You gotta think about the pieces in order."
While pieces like Cobra show player's proclivities in what they want to hear at the moment, it was fascinating to watch entire pieces borne of one player's musical sense. Dresser created a beautiful suite. Lee jumped back and forth between styles, relying heavily on a Ribot/Saft/Dunn trio. Coleman injected humor, which in itself is impressive when you're only able to suggest with genre, tempo and volume. But "M4 and 9 for Dresser and Sylvie" got a good laugh from the bandstand. (When they got to that point in the piece, Zorn showed the two cards "Quiet" and "Rock" to the audience.) Likewise, it was interesting to watch players run the pieces through their heads as they were being called.
The performance lasted 80 minutes, and it's a shame that Bezique has been forgotten over the years. While the other game pieces make for great theater and a fun night of in-the-moment creation, Bezique resulted in some truly memorable music.
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