ELECTRIC MASADA : : JOHN ZORN'S 50TH BIRTHDAY

High expectations can be a killer. For the past couple of years, my favorite live act has been Electric Masada and it's always been tough to leave a mind-blowing show and get home with nothing on the CD rack to help me recover from my synapse overload. There have been no official releases from this band. Recently finding some Bit Torrented live shows has kept the juices flowing somewhat, but it was with great anticipation that I found that one of the sets from John Zorn's 50th birthday celebration would be officially released. That time is here. The album has had a semi-permanent seat on the CD carousel and I'm ready to report that my expectations were met.

First thing to note: the sound! At first you might think it was recorded in the studio, there's such a powerful and well-balanced presence from each of the players (Zorn on saxophone; Marc Ribot, guitar; Cyro Baptista, percussion; Jamie Saft, keyboards; Ikue Mori, laptronics; Trevor Dunn, bass; Kenny Wolleson, drums; and special guest Joey Baron doubling up the ensemble on drums as well). Then you realize the lack of audience noise isn't because it's been engineered out. What you are hearing is the sound of a roomful of people in complete awe of the music they're witnessing. The addition of Baron to the usual mix makes this an unbelievably percussive squad and the album pulses with a perfect mixture of drum assaults from Joey and Kenny. If you don't recognize the names, take my word for it--they're two of the absolute best in the biz and somehow even better in tandem.

Ah, Electric Masada... named, of course, because the instruments are plugged in and thus differentiating from straight up "Masada." But that "electric" may just as easily come from the definition meaning "emotionally exciting; thrilling." The music is a bombastic blend of jazz-rock fusion with Jewish/Klezmer themes, the songs simply starting off from riffs before exploding into the unknown. The five-headed hydra of rhythm--Baptista, Baron, Dunn, Mori, and Wolleson--are the base of a seven-way give-and-take that brings interactive jamming to another continent. Marc Ribot is a firecracker of guitar-playing here, as usual evoking everyone who has ever picked up an electrified six-string while maintaining a style that is distinctly "Ribot" and no one else's.

There is so much darn music on this disk it's a wonder anyone can digest it with just two ears. But Zorn has a way of double-jointing the jaw so that the listener's ears open impossibly wide like a snake's throat taking in an oversized rodent. This music is loud and meant to be swallowed whole. Like the rest of the Zorn catalog, each listen seems to bring out new discoveries and on one pass, a tune like "Idalah-Abal" might be the greatest gnashing of notes you ever heard and the next time might completely repulse you. The surprises are just as likely to induce hate as they are the expected, severe admiration and even on the 10th, 20th or 100th listen something will reveal itself as different and new and will invoke that much more love or hate. Then again, what else would you expect? This is Ornette and Ozzy getting together to slaughter western music... all in accordance with kosher law, of course.

Aaron Stein
JamBase | New York
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[Published on: 7/19/04]

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