Asmodeus: The Book of Angels, Volume 7 is the most visceral exploration of the Masada songbook yet. In 2004, composer John Zorn added an additional 300 pieces to his already massive collection of Masada tunes. In the ensuing years, these pieces have been performed and recorded by a variety of ensembles beyond the original Masada Quartet. On the seventh volume dedicated to these new compositions, guitarist Marc Ribot leads a punishing trio featuring bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Grant Calvin Weston.
Ribot has traveled similar territory before, most notably with his primal electric band, Shrek. Embracing a plethora of electric guitar traditions, Ribot summons deep-seated influences to augment his singular style. Invoking Hendrix, Sharrock and McLaughlin, he wallows in furious electronic sustain drawn from piercing note bends, waves of unruly feedback, and volleys of fret-board shredding histrionics. With an acidic tone, overdriven to the point of overload, his attack and phrasing are more pneumatic than ever.
Dunn and Weston are a phenomenal rhythm section. Although Ribot practically steals the show with his endless guitar testimonials, Dunn and Weston find space between the notes to generate their own heated dialogues. Altering rhythms and harmonic changes with brisk interjections and sporadic phrases, they bring an added layer to the session's boisterous extremism.
Conducted by Zorn himself, the trio alternates approaches with schizophrenic fury. Characteristically irreverent with his own work, Zorn's direction yields a lean, spirited interpretation. Modulating between tempos, inside-outside dialogues and melodic fragments in rapid succession, they unfurl kernels of melody and stirring rhythms only to annihilate them with torrents of manic slide guitar, pulverizing bass chords, or sputtering trap set salvos.
Economical and concise, most pieces last three to four minutes. "Kezef" and "Raziel" break the two minute mark with manic No Wave styled deconstruction. Driven by thunderous power chords, "Mufgar" and "Dagiel" update traditional Hassidic melodies with propulsive, metallic angularity. The jittery "Armaros" features a wiry bass solo from Dunn, while "Kezef" lets the drummer have some.
Seven and a half minutes of sustained lyricism, "Yezriel" showcases Ribot vacillating from sly Hendrixian lyricism to Sharrock inspired slide destruction over an ornately varied modal framework. The album's conceptual highpoint, it is a masterpiece of melodic and experimental improvisation.
A high water mark in a developing series, Asmodeus sets the bar higher for future interpretations of this rich body of work.
Personnel: Marc Ribot: guitar; Trevor Dunn: bass; G. Calvin Weston: drums; John Zorn: composer, conductor.