John Zorn: Filmworks XVIII & 50th Birthday Celebration Vol. 11
Bar Kokhba Sextet
There can be something nice, relaxing even, about the casual works of a genius. Like Woody Allen's slight comedies or Chopin's preludes, a master in repose can be extraordinarily entertaining.
So while John Zorn - a master no doubt at his craft - has created massive, epic, shocking, challenging and beautiful works, there's something deeply sweet about his 'lighter music'. His recorded catalogue has made clear his interests in romantic pop by the likes of Burt Bacharach, Serge Gainsbourg and Martin Denny and it's those interests that informs the latest in his Filmworks series, the soundtrack to a romantic comedy called The Treatment. The Filmworks CDs haven't been Zorn's strongest work, often borrowing from stronger projects to create incidental mood music. And to a degree, the same is true here. While it's not as rich as his 2001 album The Gift, it is a simple pleasure and one of the least explored of Zorn's many interests. The group (violinist Mark Feldman, bassist Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz, Rob Burger on accordion and Kenny Wollesen on vibes, with guitarist Marc Ribot sitting in on two cuts) is alternately leisurely and sprightly but never quite heavy and the dozen cuts are nicely satisfying.
Zorn's Masada project isn't quite so light an affair, but of the growing number of ensembles performing the songbook (including a 14-piece string ensemble that premiered as part of the Oy!Hoo Festival in New York City last month at 92nd Street Y), the Bar Kokhba Sextet is the most fun. With the Masada String Trio (Feldman, cellist Erik Friedlander and bassist Greg Cohen) at its core and guitarist Marc Ribot and percussionists Joey Baron and Cyro Baptista pushing the energy level, the group is the strongest mix of exuberance and precision of any of those performing the burgeoning songbook. The new volume in Zorn's series of recordings from his month of performances marking his 50th birthday preserves three of the four sets they played over two nights, 28 tracks over three discs. They sound great, with Zorn conducting and the recording itself is fantastic - intimate enough to hear the audience, but clear enough that you're not left longing for a studio recording. For Masada completists, it's a given, but even for the dabbler it could stand alone as a representation of the band - rare for a live recording, but they're a rare band.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: The Treatment; Romance; Why Me?; Family; Marking Time; Anxieties; Freud's Rondo; Totem and Taboo; Rush Hour; Bad Dreams; Uncertainty; Happy Ending.
Personnel: Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz: bass; Rob Burger: accordion; Mark Feldman: violin; Kenny Wollesen: vibraphone; Marc Ribot: guitar.
Album Title #2
Tracks: Disc 1: Lilin; Ner Tamid; Karet; Yatzar; Khebar; Eitan; Kivah; Teli; Disc 2: Khebar; Lachish; Kisofim; Jachin; Kochot; Hazor; Avelut; Lilin Disc 3: Khebar; Hadasha; Hazor; Eitan; Karet; Idalah Abal; Teli; Avelut; Bith Aneth.
Personnel: John Zorn: composer, conductor; Cyro Baptista: percussion; Joey Baron: drums; Greg Cohen: bass; Mark Feldman: violin; Erik Friedlander: cello; Marc Ribot: guitar.