Astaroth. The word itself can only be spoken with a gleam in the speaker's eye, a twitch of the eyebrow. It's as if within those eight letters, those three syllables, lies the power of enchantment. With Astaroth: Book of Angels Volume 1, the Jamie Saft Trio takes on ten compositions from John Zorn's Masada Book Two. In addition to Astaroth, nine other heavenly creatures lend their names to each track, each equally exotic in its ancient sanctity.
Once the splashy, hyperactive chaos of the first couple of tunes pass by and the timid, atonal murmurs of the title track fade away, we are left with the gorgeous trappings of "Ariel, which arrives midway through the disc. Saft's tightly coiled piano melody unwinds unsuspecting through Ben Perowsky's breezy drum splashes. Settling into the relaxed glamour of lazy vanity, the sound evokes Spanish mystery and Hollywood cool.
Similarly to die for is "Lelabel, which begins innocently with a simple, unadulterated piano motive that repeats languidly throughout the tune. Greg Cohen's bass and Perowsky's drums fill in like two friends coming to the aid of another. They console as Saft's piano laments.
These pieces work brilliantly for piano trio, and each member of this group has balanced the others so well that personality pervades. Cohen is constantly tightening his grip on his pals, who are easily led to stray mischievously beyond the immediate parameters. But that is perhaps what Masada is all about. And the trio does ring with the effervescent freedom that Tzadik has come to embody. Saft's wild splatters of twinkling notes reach pinnacles of sound that pop like electricity, especially on "Sturiel, with Perowsky's broiling drum solo reminiscent of the Fourth of July grand finale. Saft's syncopated piano line at the end of the tune could be a sample in an electro dance track.
The piano's bright, jagged steps in "Baal Peor contrast with the warm notes of Cohen's bass. While Perowsky creates a shifting environ with bowed cymbals and flurried fills, Cohen remains a steady presence, like a safe mooring for listless souls who could drift off into the heavens at any moment.
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