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Published: 2005/11/13
by Pat Buzby

Masada Rock – John Zorn

Tzadik Records 8103

John Zorn is a well-documented character. His stint with Nonesuch may have left a bad taste in his mouth, but it must have had something to do with giving him the fame and capital to produce CDs for every step in his musical development, as well as the work of some fortunate friends.

Somewhat confusingly, Zorn receives artist’s credit for Masada Rock, but the group whose playing appears on the disc, which doesn’t include him, is called Rashanim. These are his compositions, though, and apparently the idea is that, although orchestral music aficionados may consider a specific record of Beethoven’s Ninth to be the work of, say, Eugene Ormandy and/or the Philadelphia Orchestra, most listeners will put it on and hear Beethoven.

Okay, that’s two paragraphs without discussing this CD’s music. That’s because it’s one of those CDs which are tricky to discuss because it simply has something it wants to do (exploring Jewish music, with half-steps aplenty, in various modern contexts) and does it well. This disc zigzags a bit between moods and genres as Zorn got famous for doing, but it settles on one genre per track: surf music, jazz/rock, grunge, soundtracky acoustic sullenness. The finale, “Terumah,” finds a 12/8 pulse and hits a long, relaxed groove (not expected on a Zorn project). These varied genres require a lot of guitarist Jon Madof, of course, and he’s the equal of each challenge, while bassist Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz and drummer Mathias Kare a strong-armed rhythm section. Zorn regular Marc Ribot also stops in for two cuts, matching thunderous metal with Madof on “Bahir” and lilting acoustics on “Shadrakh.”

This CD documents one more aspect of Zorn’s work. And it establishes that Rashanim can play, as well as planting the idea that it may also be worth checking into them in a live, varied-composer context.

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