By my count, John Zorn's piano-less quartet Masada has amassed some 14 recordings. His concept for Masada, which began in 1993, was to write, write, and write some more. His book of over two hundred Masada songs are written as brief melodies of what he calls "Jewish Scales" for multiple groups. This concept has been recorded by chamber ensembles and electric bands, but this saxophone, trumpet, bass, and drums is by far the best forum for Zorn's music. Often compared to Ornette Coleman's early records, Masada is piano-less melodies driven by group interaction and reaction. But this music can never be confused with Coleman. Zorn has crafted a distinct sound built upon eastern music, hard-bop, and his own brand of rolodex musicality.
Since it's foundation, the band's membership has also gained recognition in the jazz community. Trumpeter Dave Douglas winner of several "best of" awards this year is heading several successful projects and tours, as is drummer Joey Baron with bands Barondown, Downhome (with Bill Frisell, Arthur Blythe, and Ron Carter), and the Harry Smiths (with singer David Johansen). Bassist Greg Cohen, a sideman to many, share credits with Dave Douglas' Charms Of The Night Sky band. All of these side-projects mean Masada, as a studio band, may be finished.
Live recordings of the band don't seem to be in short supply. This date form Sevilla, Spain earlier this year maybe the best Masada recording of the bunch. It is definitely the choice for those thinking of investigating this music.
Sonically excellent, this music jumps out of the speakers. You get a sense of the intensity of the music and the spontaneity in this live setting. Zorn's now famous tongue slapping, yowls, and squeaks, a one-time novelty sound, have become almost nomenclature. Plus his lyrical side has developed through his Masada writing. Dave Douglas, a trumpet voice that is a near perfect foil for Zorn, counters Zorn's call with a genius response. Given Cohen and Baron's rhythms, the music allows for varying grooves. Joey Baron abandons the sticks for much hand-drumming here. Zorn hasn't abandoned his stop/start Naked City approach, challenging the band in "Katzatz" with its intricate designs. This music is joyfully rich, ethnically sound hard-bop.
Personnel: John Zorn: Alto Saxophone; Dave Douglas: Trumpet; Greg Cohen: Bass; Joey Baron: Drums.