Thursday, October 15, 2009

Zorn's New Masada CD with Joe Lovano

John Zorn's Masada group started out as his primary working band, a rather stable gathering of like-minded musicians playing high energy avant-Semitic jazz of a very captivating kind. Over the years there have been sidebar versions that included such things as a guitar-oriented ensemble, a piano-centered group, and others as well. Zorn was not necessarily present on these groupings as the alto saxophonist, but as always he was the guiding force behind the compositions and arrangements.

There's a new Masada Quintet recording, Stolas (Tzadik), that includes some of the old stand-bys like the drumming dynamo Joey Baron and the all-seasons trumpet master Dave Douglas, but this one brings in Joe Lovano, and that makes it special. John Zorn plays alto on only one number, but as before it is his music and arrangements that put it all together.

You might call this one Masada's hard bop record, but sometimes in the later Blue Note freed-up version. The first number, for example, is a Jewish-tinged Blue Note boogaloo, sort of a Lower East Side "Sidewinder" and that is lots of fun. It is straight-ahead music at least half the time, with the principal soloists taking free liberties and the ensemble loosely driving the music, but operating within the confines of the style for the most part, albeit with a Mideastern minor orientation. Then again, there are some pieces that touch the more out fringes and the numbers coexist side-by-side. All that makes it something altogether different. The pieces are compelling, the band has real presence and there is lots of room for some very good soloing from Lovano, Douglas and pianist Uri Caine. The "Rabliel" number (kind of like Haden-Ornette in Israel) brings in Zorn's alto and there are some great interactions between the three horns that perhaps form the high point of the entire disk.

I must note at this point that Joey Baron's drumming leaves me in awe much of the time. He has a chance to do that to me again on this record, when he stokes the fires with incendiary measures.

Stolas is a blast. Lovano fits right in and the vehicles are ever interesting.

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