John Zorn has been leading "Cobra," one of his most famous improvisational "game piece" performances, for upwards of 40 years, and as part of his 70th birthday celebration at Knoxville's Big Ears, he presented a massive version of it to close out the festival. Thirteen musicians took part, with four drummers, three guitarists, piano, organ, two bassists, a vibraphonist and a cellist, including Dave Lombardo, Trevor Dunn, Mary Halvorson, John Medeski, Wendy Eisenberg, Ches Smith, and Kenny Wollesen. Zorn leads/conducts with cue cards, hand gestures, and hats, and the musicians themselves play little side games during it with more hand gestures, headbands and looks.
I had no idea what the rules of "Cobra" are (they've never been officially published) but I tried to make sense of the utter thrilling insanity it was watching this baker's dozen of extremely talented musicians go apeshit playing the game. I'm sure it's much more fun to actually play "Cobra" than be a spectator, but it was a blast, both heady and visceral, like the musical equivalent of Twister and a dice-led role playing game. At the festival after-party I asked Wollenson about how it worked, saying I didn't know the rules and he replied "Neither do I!" I don't think that's true -- there's too much control in this chaos -- but it does seem like only Zorn 100% gets it