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John Zorn/Jamie Saft Trio: Astaroth, Book of Angels Volume 1: Jamie Saft Trio plays Masada Book Two

Michael McCaw By

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A couple of things become apparent when you listen to Jamie Saft's new trio album on Tzadik. On one hand you have the emergence of an artist in a spotlight that often reveals a lot about a musician's abilities, and on the other the continuation of a composer's work to meld traditional music with modern improvisation. The combination of these two elements makes for an accomplished record.

Jamie Saft has long been the alchemist of choice for various musicians. From his brilliant accordion playing on Peter Epstein's Staring At The Sun to his electronic manipulations on others' recordings and his own discs, like Sovlanut, Saft has long established himself as the man for creative instrumentation, manipulation, and reconstruction. However, only recently has his profile as a straight player been dramatically raised, following Jane Ira Bloom's Like Silver, Like Song, where he consistently evoked sounds and explorations from Bloom through more outward thinking and playing than her previous foils manifested, as acomplished as they were. And now with Astaroth, Saft firmly establishes himself as a player of depth and ability outside of the electronic realm.

John Zorn, like most prolific writers, never seems to be short on invention. With every recording and performance he works out, reconstructs, and develops new material. His series of so-called "game pieces" established him as a composer/conductor some twenty years ago, and his Masada groups cemented his reputation, as well as a book of some two hundred compositions. His label, Tzadik, is built on the premise of presenting undiluted music that represents the musicians' true intentions—and as such it consistently releases music that at the very least is unique in nature. With this album, Zorn further develops his Masada songbook by presenting his the second book of music performed by musicians other than himself.

And although the album explores Zorn's music, it succeeds because of the musicianship of Saft, bassist Greg Cohen, and drummer Ben Perowsky. Never quite sounding like a typical piano trio, they bring Zorn's compositions to fruition and imbue them with energy and life. Songs like "Ariel and its classical/traditional Jewish music/jazz themes are interpreted with precision and grace, creating the sense of a floating procession. Anchored by his rhythm section, Saft exploits the melody without ever disguising or overtly changing it. Here he is a pianist, not a musical alchemist embellishing his sound, and he succeeds wonderfully.

Cohen is his usual interactive touchstone, manipulating and stretching time, and his occasional solossections are more than the standard fare. He anchors everything around him during more agitated moments, like in "Ygal or "Sturiel, where Saft creates a circular whirlwind of notes and Perowsky mimics these sounds on snare and cymbals. Ultimately, Zorn's compositions provide the space for all of this activity, but they still retain the hallmarks of his personal musical landscape: a melding of the Jewish tradition with jazz improvisation. And with performances like this, these continue to be fertile fields to explore.

Track Listing: Shalmiel; Ygal; Astaroth; Ezeqeel; Ariel; Sturiel; Baal-Peorl; Pursan; Lela'hel; Beleth

Personnel: Jamie Saft (piano); Greg Cohen (bass); Ben Perowsky (drums)

Title: Astaroth, Book of Angels Volume 1: Jamie Saft Trio plays Masada Book Two | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Tzadik


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