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Medeski, Martin & Wood: Zaebos: The Book of Angels Vol. 11 (2008)

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Medeski, Martin & Wood: Zaebos: The Book of Angels Vol. 11 How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Composer John Zorn has entered what could cautiously be referred to as his mature period. His early game pieces have given way to neoclassical works heavily influenced by modernists such as Boulez, Ligeti and Xenakis, while his Hassidic-inspired Masada projects have gained him unprecedented mainstream popularity. Masada has roots deeper than its recorded history however; before the original acoustic Masada quartet, there was the Thieves Quartet.

Zorn's score for Joel Chappelle's 1994 film noir, Thieves Quartet, utilized the same line-up that would eventually become known as Masada. On subsequent tours, that small, but talented roster occasionally included John Medeski and Billy Martin.

The Book of Angels, Zorn's second book of Masada tunes, has been a continuing source of inspiration for the composer and his legion of interpreters. On Zaebos: The Book of Angels Vol. 11, Medeski, Martin & Wood's intimate understanding of Zorn's working method lends their interpretations of these sturdily crafted tunes an air of cleverly inspired authority.

Embracing a wealth of genres, instrumental combinations and stylistic detours, the veteran trio brings their signature sound to this melodically distinctive body of work; the end result is one of their most satisfyingly diverse efforts.

Dispensing with preconceived boundaries, the trio ranges far and wide across the spectrum of available sound. "Rifion" utilizes classic swinging piano trio dynamics, complete with brief detours into outside playing. "Malach ha-Sopher" unveils a moody, haunting tone poem, while "Jeduthun" adopts the stunning silences, harsh angularity and pneumatic rhythms of Zorn's own jump-cut/collage oriented approach towards popular music.

Plugged-in, the trio burns white-hot as they careen through the whiplash frenzy of "Zagzagel" and the propulsive anthem "Vianuel." Medeski's vintage analog keyboards squeal and sputter, Wood ferrets out subterranean reverberations from a fuzz-toned electric bass and Martin kicks out thorny polyrhythms as the trio basks in waves of distortion and electronic sustain.

Covering familiar ground, "Agmatia" and "Chafriel" ride groovy, modal melodies driven by swirling organ washes, hypnotic bass lines and snappy shuffle rhythms. Revealing their longstanding rapport, they invest the oblique angles of "Ahaij" with a string of inventive solos and edgy interplay.

Maximizing the gorgeous melodic potential of Zorn's writing, "Sefrial" and "Asaliah" recall the dreamy exotica of the composer's lounge-inspired ensemble, The Gift, as kaleidoscopic keyboard washes, languorous bass pulses and spare trap set ruminations expand with cinematic atmosphere.

Zaebos is a homecoming of sorts for both Zorn and the Brooklyn-based trio. An endlessly rewarding listen, this session is one of Medeski, Martin & Wood's most varied and enjoyable releases, and one of the most commanding interpretations of the Book of Angels.

Track Listing: Zagzagel; Sefrial; Agmatia; Rifion; Chafriel; Ahaij; Asaliah; Vianuel; Jeduthun; Malach ha-Sopher; Tutrusa'i.

Personnel: John Medeski: keyboards; Chris Wood: bass; Billy Martin: drums.

Record Label: Tzadik

Style: Modern Jazz


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