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Terry Riley, Laurie Anderson, and John Zorn hit it off at the chapel on Valencia Street / San Francisco Classical Voice

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Terry Riley, Laurie Anderson, and John Zorn - three towering figures in U.S. experimentalism - don't immediately spark an association among them. Before their latest two-night, four-shows residency of a sort at the Chapel on Valencia Street. they had collaborated exactly once, coming together on the occasion of Zorn's 65th-birthday celebrations at the same venue in September 2018. The trio hit it off, and if the opening set from their current revival is any indication, we may not have heard the last from them.

The atmosphere at the Chapel - a hip venue, both intimate and airy with its vaulted ceilings - was one of vibrant expectancy as the sold-out audience assembled, a terse spring evening light lingering outside. 

And then it was music. The trio took the small stage, Zorn's horn in the middle, flanked by electronic setups for Riley and Anderson on either side. Riley set things off on synth, carving out an idiomatically ambiguous space somewhere between a bolero and a prelude, highlighting his exploratory runs with sly smiles aimed at his conspirators. He was soon joined by Zorn's plaintive saxophone lines, with Anderson providing textural support on electric violin. The smiling persisted, and as the group warmed up they began traversing a vast musical landscape, skirting around the edges rather than fully embracing any particular style or tradition.

Commenting on their return to the stage as a trio, Zorn mentioned their enjoyment of the Chapel as a setting, and their desire to blow the roof off the place. As the three locked into the occasional groove, relentlessly attacking it with ever-increasing intensity, the swelling sound mass threatened to make good on the promise. I looked around to a crowd of ecstatic stares and swaying abandon. I wasn't sure when we were or where, anymore, but one thing I can say: it was good.  PHOTO: Geoffrey Smith II

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