In 1993 John Zorn began composing and performing his 208 tunes that now comprise what is known as the Masada songbook. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of this, his most popular musical project, John Zorn has organized a series of CDs, featuring his most illustrious colleagues performing their own unique arrangements of these classics of modern Jewish music. This first release contains three guitarists whose styles are as varied as the compositions they perform. From the singular brilliance of Marc Ribot, the lush sonorities of Bill Frisell, to the orchestral virtuosity of Tim Sparks, Masada Guitars is a glittering tribute, lovingly executed by three of the most original guitarists in the world.
From its first manic blast, it's clear that Masada, Vol. 10: Yod is going to be one of John Zorn and company's wildest, most confident works. It's also one of the most accessible, though that's hardly a safe recommendation: like all of the Masada series' works, Yod is not a friendly listen. The middle section of the album, though, with its gentle, hypnotic pace, offers a reprieve from the intensity of the other compositions. What continues to impress in this, their tenth release, is the group's relentless energy and the sheer brilliance of their interplay. The incredibly visceral soloing of Zorn and Dave Douglas, the mesmerizing, exotic pulse: all are the trademarks of one of jazz's greatest units, a group practically exploding with talent and ideas.
With its keen balance between the form and freedom, cogent solos, and forward momentum, John Zorn's Masada series is without a doubt his most musically sound and rewarding output of this decade. On Tet, Zorn and his cohorts continue to successfully juxtapose Jewish folk melodies with modal grooves and harmelodic labyrinths.
Recorded four months after the fragmented loose ends of Masada, Vol. 7: Zayin, Masada seems to be settling into a new – perhaps mature or more conventional – phase with Masada, Vol. 8: Het. The frantic frenzy that drove its early releases is largely reined in, a couple of actual ballads sneak in the repertoire, and there are some solos by John Zorn or Dave Douglas with just the rhythm section instead of their usual countermelody exchanges. "Shechem" opens with very loose-limbed, Ornette Coleman-influenced free bop, with the two horns playing off Joey Baron's light tom-tom touch before Zorn takes a very melodic, flowing soloing on his own until organically handing it off to Douglas.
Masada's seventh volume sounds almost like an odds-and-sods collection. It's a more fragmentary and disparate disc that doesn't have much musical middle ground – the extremes between the group's atonal free improv bursts and its more melodic or atmospheric pieces are very pronounced. "Shevet" has a more overt klezmer influence and almost timbales tones from Joey Baron, while the segmented "Hath-Arob" is very Ornette Coleman-like before breaking down into free-blow sections.
Recorded at the Power Station in New York in 1995, Masada, Vol. 6 Vav continues Masada's convincing union of Eastern European and Middle Eastern modalities with the freer, post-bop aspects of jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman. John Zorn's writing is particularly focused and well-informed, full of serpentine lines, mixed meters, and sudden shifts in tempo, while leaving plenty of room for collective and individual improvisation. The ensemble and the individual playing are uniformly superb throughout. Like much of Zorn's work, Vav exists in several simultaneous dimensions.