Wednesday, October 14, 2009

John Zorn's Masada: Keeping The Faith

John Zorn/Masada (saxophone/group)
Dave Douglas (trumpet)
Joey Baron (drums)
Greg Cohen (bass)

For some, the name John Zorn may be unfamiliar. He has been a mainstay on the New York and European jazz scene since the late 70s. John Zorn's influences range from all forms of pop culture, Japanese cult films, television and oh yeah, jazz. He has practically created his own idiom within jazz. Zorn has utilized his saxophone is various groups of his own creation including the avant-punk outfits Painkiller, Cobra and Naked City.

He received critical success and wider recognition among the jazz community with his 1984 album The Big Gundown (Tzadik), a large ensemble recording which encapsulates John Zorn entire oeuvre. The album features such luminaries as Bill Frisell, Fred Firth, Vernon Ried (also of the rock band Living Colour), Joey Baron, John Patton and more. This is definitely an album you should hear eventually but I would like everyone to focus on one of John Zorn's newest groups--Masada.

Masada seems to be born out of Zorn's Jewish heritage. The studio albums were album named after each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. That's only the beginning. The studio albums while essential pale in comparison to the series of live albums that would follow the ten studio creations. The live albums show the energy, creativity and highly technical balance of a band that has been together since 1993. To some this might sound like a klezmer band finally put in a room with Miles Davis' classic quartet featuring John Coltrane. But you have to listen further and then it will hit you how amazing and rich this band is live. Some have compared it to experiencing a Frank Zappa show where craziness and creativity meet in rapturous cacophony but finally win over even the harden of skeptics.

Masada is easily Zorn's most accessible group. Masada live is definitely the place to start with John Zorn. I would suggest First Live 1993 (Tzadik). Don't be afraid. Take a listen. Its worth the adventure.

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