Live in Jerusalem

review by Lang Thompson


While some fans of John Zorn's klezmer-meets-out-jazz group Masada may be biding their time for the long-rumored (and possibly only a rumor) 10-CD reissue box set the real excitement is this live album, first in a series of three (as of early 2000).  Not just a collector's item, Live in Jerusalem is strong enough to captivate more than the already-converted; in fact this may well be the best choice for a curious listener's first Masada album.  Though it bears the year "1994" and no other recording information, it's clear from the opening track that the band is in top form, nimbly navigating several ten-minute pieces as easily as the more succinct three-minute ones.  "Bith-Aneth" sets up a funky grove decorated by horn splats before Zorn's alto sax and Dave Douglas' trumpet come together on a minor-key melody.  A different side to the group appears on the jaunty "Ravayah" where drummer Joey Baron's bright solo is all the more impressive for being so well integrated.  Though bassist Greg Cohen might be taken for granted, such moments as the intro to "Kanah" prove how indispensible he really is.  Masada's integration of Jewish musical ideas into a sax-trumpet jazz quartet has proven remarkably versatile even as they stay within their clearly marked boundaries.  The resulting albums tend to be fairly similar (an observation, not a negative comment) but the band isn't even close to exhausting their emotional and musical range.  Just listen to Zorn solos on "Abidan" or "Tirzah" where he ranges from late-night-sax moan to syncopated blurts, almost encompassing a mini-history of jazz.  Such personality abounds on the album--despite Zorn's leadership, this is clearly a band of equals--making it true to the spirit of jazz and any worthwhile art.  Masada has spirit and brains in abundance on Live in Jerusalem which means it's definitely not just more of the same.

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