I suppose that since John Zorn plays alto saxophone and improvisation has played a crucial part in his music over the years, by convention he could be described as a "jazz musician. But as a composer he has been anything but conventional, drawing on myriad influences that range from film scores and cartoon themes to Braxton and Ornette and every culture within range of a recording microphone.
Zorn doesn't play on Masada Recital
. Instead, pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and violinist Mark Feldman interpret selections from his rich Masada songbook in a style that places these compositions squarely in eastern Europe where the music of radical Jewish culture originates. "Kanah is a straight-up contemporary classical piece with a cinematic range, suited to a tense train ride through the Alps, or appropriate for covering up the physical evidence of an incident that would be of interest to the authorities. "Socoh is less structured and consequently more unnerving as Feldman substitutes violent sawing for the previous track's decorative filigrees. "Mahshaz begins as a piano feature and Courvoisier moves forward cautiously, tentatively, conveying the delicacy of a music box theme and evoking the sorrow and pain of loss, before she affirms the will to go on in a succinct and sweet resolution.
Both musicians employ a variety of techniques to elicit unexpected sounds from their instruments, and Feldman, who has played with Johnny Cash in Nashville and They Might Be Giants in Brooklyn, consistently impresses with his virtuosity. On "Abidan, he plucks his strings precisely and intensely while Courvoisier strums her piano to create thrumming accompaniment, and "Azekah achieves a purity of tone with sustained notes that simulate the high-pitch of a pennywhistle. "Karaim is quiet and deliberately paced and Feldman is able to hold a single note for the better part of a minute in spots. His solo control on "Aravat is remarkable.
It's probably not jazz. But it is captivating, beautifully played and deeply moving. Zorn has never been into labels. Why should we?