on December 13, 2000
John Zorn's hard-jazz combo returns with possibly their finest live recording to date. Masada's distinctive compositions are played here with a spirit of balanced wanderlust and economy. There's no excess fat on this one, just engaging cerebral abandon and some superb interplay between Zorn on sax and dave Douglas on trumpet.
Masada's studio albums never quite captured what the band was capable of-- live, the group is an experience, breathing into themselves and becoming more than the sum of their parts. "Live in Sevilla" is another fine example of this.
The band, for anyone unfamiliar, was put together by John Zorn to perform a songbook he wrote to be similar to Monk's-- themes upon which improvisation could occur. The catch is that Zorn wrote these with the so-called Jewish scales, lending that Middle Eastern meets Eastern European sensibility to it. The band-- modelled after Ornette Coleman's great quartets on his Atlantic albums-- Zorn on alto sax, Dave Douglas on trumpet, Greg Cohen on bass and Joey Baron on drums-- performs with a near-psychic level of spontaneous interaction, exploring the themes and responding to each other-- indeed, Zorn and Douglas often solo together, aclling and responding, intertwining and working about each other, but even when they don't, the band's interaction is extraordinary.
Certianly the opener "Ne'eman" shows this effect off-- Zorn's solo is angular and agile, then fierce and exciting until the theme gets reintroduced and Douglas takes hold, stating a rhythmic figure early in his solo that becomes the model for Cohen and Baron. This all comes to a head when Zorn rejoins and the two begin wrapping about each other, dueling gently and powerfully, like a dance. The level of energy stays high throughout the album, from the haunting and mysterious "Hadasha" to the unaccompanied performances of "Yoreh" (Cohen, Zorn and Douglas all solo with minimal accompaniment to great effect) to the frantic set closer "Nashon", where Zorn rails to the point of explosion while Cohen and Baron alternate between holding the piece grounded and pushing the leader further and further in what ends up being one of his best performances of the show. Along the way, we get a drum feature (the stunning performance of "Beeroth") and a slice of cartoon music ("Katzatz"), providing a varied and exciting release.
It's not quite as good as "Live at Tonic 2001" or "50th Birthday Celebration Volume 7" (both by this quartet), but it's hard for me to rate a performance this stunning anything less than five stars. Highly recommended.
on August 11, 2000
A few weeks ago I caught Masada performing live in Seattle. They were exceptional; it was one of the finest concerts I have attended. This alblum captures much of that experience. All four musicians, as usual, perform marvelously, delivering some fine solos. I assume most Masada fans will be picking this up, and this alblum would make a fine introduction for the curious or for anyone looking for invigorating and compelling music.