Somnambule - Writing About Music

Masada ~ Sanhedrin 1994-1997, Unreleased Studio Recordings

John Zorn (as); Dave Douglas (t); Greg Cohen (b); Joey Baron (d)
Recorded 1994-97
Tzadik TZ7346-2

John Zorn’s Masada quartet in large part represented the New York saxophonist’s engagement with his Jewish heritage, as embodied in the musical form of klezmer. True to character, Zorn’s approach was not to pay solemn tribute. Masada’s music was instead shot through with a steely resolve to pull klezmer kicking and screaming into the twentieth century. In mixing the music with jazz and blues, Zorn’s hybrid added one more strand to an already extant tapestry: klezmer is, after all, an amalgam of Arabic, Balkan and gypsy musics. With previous projects such as Naked City, the game pieces and jump-cut compositions, John Zorn’s music had proved to be clever, innovative and frequently combative. In Masada’s engagement with tradition lay the opportunity to explore something deeper. It’s to the credit of the endeavour that despite this, each of the 29 pieces on this double CD is full of noisy, heartfelt vitality. All four players clearly enjoy themselves throughout, pushing each other forward, occasionally playing cat and mouse or joining together without warning for the melody. As with so many Tzadik releases, Sanhedrin comes in the sort of beautiful packaging that makes one wonder why anyone would bother with MP3s. Although these are alternate takes, Sanhedrin acts as an excellent introduction to the group’s 10 studio albums, 7 live albums and ever growing number of Masada songbook interpretations.
Colin Buttimer
July 2005
Published by Jazzwise magazine