John Zorn/Masada: Live At Tonic 2001
For a while it appeared that Masada was just another step on John Zorn's eclectic career path. He first grabbed our attention with his reconfigurations of film music from Ennio Morricone to Carl Stalling. Then went on to a rapid-fire hardcore punk esthetic with his bands Naked City and Painkiller, only to turn that energy into the music of Ornette Coleman. He has moved freely between semi-classical avant-garde music and free jazz playing with and producing new artists from the US and Japan. Since 1994, his identity has been most strongly identified with Masada, an assimilation of his love of Ornette Coleman's openness to jazz time and composition and a Hebrew folk music.
While there are ten studio recordings of this band, their live shows reveal the energy and passion both Zorn and his audiences feel for this music. While the prior live recordings from Taipei, Jerusalem, Sevilla, and Middleheim (all on Zorn's Tzadik label) showcase this popular band, none reaches the level of energy this live date at New York's Tonic club. The small room yields an intimate sound and the band feeds off the crowd's energy, not unlike the Ramones did in the heyday of CBGB's.
While Zorn and Douglas are the frontline stars, Joey Baron's drumming drives the audience into a frenzied response and his bandmates to higher heights. The two-disc set is an exhausting two hours of music. Repeated in both sets is "Malkhut," the closest the band treads into Naked City's jump-cut styles. Stop-starting this classical/punk/Masada/surf/bebop tune, Dave Douglas plays a bit of a tribute to Don Cherry within the context of the song as Baron addresses Billy Higgins cymbal work. The remaining compositions are satisfying workouts with Zorn's biting signature honk and flutter tossed in throughout.
Just when this reviewer believed Masada had indeed run its natural course, this live date leaves me wanting much more.
Track Listing: Intro; Karaim; Ner Tamid; Acharei Mot; Kisofim; Jachin; Malkhut; Nashim; Intro; Lilin; Khebar; Galshan; Malkhut; Shevet; Shamor; Acharei Mot; Kisofim; Shechem.
Personnel: John Zorn: Alto Saxophone; Dave Douglas: Trumpet; Joey Baron: Drums; Greg Cohen: Bass.
Record Label: Tzadik