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Joey Baron: Secrets, I Believe & Live at the Vortex

Kurt Gottschalk By

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Mark Feldman / Uri Caine / Greg Cohen / Joey Baron
Secrets
Tzadik
2009


Daniel Zamir
I Believe
Tzadik
2008


Julian Siegel Trio
Live at the Vortex
Basho Records
2008


For a good 25 years, Joey Baron's every moment behind the drums has looked like his birthday. That infectious spirit is a big part of what has made John Zorn's Masada the joyful band it is and thus made the rhythm section of Baron and bassist Greg Cohen one of the most utterly pleasing regular pairings in town.

There's a bit of starmaker machinery at play behind Tzadik, but fortunately label head Zorn is an excellent talent scout. And so it's in no small part to his credit that a new quartet, featuring Baron and Cohen alongside pianist Uri Caine and violinist Mark Feldman can be fairly called a 'supergroup.' These are players with extraordinary sensitivity and dynamism, which makes how relaxed Secrets is so noteworthy. The tunes come from the hymns of the Lubavitch, Satmar, Bobov and Modzitzer Hasidim and certainly it constitutes the "radical Jewish" jazz that has been developed in New York for the last 15 years. It is at once familiar and a new take. There's a vocabulary here, just like there's a vocabulary to Bill Evans or Thelonious Monk, a centuries-old syntax popularized of late by these musicians and their compatriots. It is, however, remarkable that this music at once goes to historic sources and yet feels so natural. Where the nine tracks here could have been—in Zorn's hands perhaps or even Caine's on another day of the week—High Concept, here it is just lovely interpretation, the simple ride that, for example, allowed Coltrane to make a melody at once a Broadway show tune and not.

Tzadik's starmaking, of course, doesn't just apply to musicians who have already built careers. Saxophonist Daniel Zamir was a rising star on the label's roster around the turn of the century. A young man from Israel clearly familiar with the Downtown (and in particular, Zorn) scene, he was a natural for the label, releasing three CDs with his band Satlah. He has spent the last five years back home and his return to the New York fold is fairly outstanding. For I Believe, Zamir boldly (and with a gorgeous finesse) restricts himself to the soprano in a quartet with Baron, Cohen and Caine and confidently erases any such adjectives as "aspiring" from his resume. If before he could be faulted for emulating Zorn a little too much, it seems a safe guess that Steve Lacy and Sonny Rollins booked some time on his iPod while he was away.

While the first half is comprised of Zamir's own compositions, the second half moves into a similarly devotional territory as heard on Secrets, calling upon compositions from the same Hasidim. But as with the Feldman band, the approach is more that of jazzmen than devotional interpretation. And if any doubt of his confidence remains, Zamir boldly takes one of the traditional tunes unaccompanied.

The Baron/Cohen section stepped out of the New York groove for two nights in London with Julian Siegel in January 2007, 95 minutes of which is documented on the double-disc Live at the Vortex. Cohen and Siegel had played together previously, at the Ruhr Trenniale the year before, in performance artist Laurie Anderson's backing band. While most of the ten pieces on the trio set are credited to Siegel, the band plays with an open, easy feeling, also taking on a heated "Alfie" (retaining more Sonny Rollins than Hal David) and a laid-back vamp on "One Mint Julep." Siegel plays clarinet and bass clarinet, but his warm tone on the tenor sax shows him at his best. Baron and Cohen have more room to move here than on the New York sessions, pushing a little harder and playing freer, sounding something like they're on vacation—at once relaxed and energized.


Tracks and Personnel

Secrets

Tracks: Luvavitcher Nigun; Avinu Malkenu; Chabad Nigun; Z'chor Dovon; Satmar Rikud; Bobover Nigun; Kel Adon; Z'chor Hashem; Moditzer Nigun.

Personnel: Mark Feldman: violin; Uri Caine: piano; Greg Cohen: bass; Joey Baron: drums.

I Believe

Tracks: 7 Midot; Poem 51/52; Poem 54 (770); Love; Poem 10; Let Me In Under Your Wing; The Fifth Letter in the Hebrew Alphabet; You Are My G-d; Nine Minute (or so) Chabad Nigun; I Believe.

Daniel Zamir: soprano saxophone; Uri Caine: piano; Greg Cohen: bass; Joey Baron: drums.

Live at the Vortex

Tracks: Atlantic; Wigsworld; Alfie; Stop Go Man; Night at the Opera; Incantaion #1; M.A.B.; Haunted Waltz; Sandpit; One Mint Julep.

Personnel: Julian Siegal: tenor saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet; Joey Baron: drums; Greg Cohen: bass.


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