Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Electric Masada at John Zorn's 50th Birthday Celebration

For whatever reason, what Miles Davis accomplished with Bitches Brew - arguably the album that put fusion on the map - has never been matched and has rarely been emulated. Fusion and various forms of jazz-rock abound thanks to Miles and other pioneering artists, but the sounds and textures of Bitches Brew remain nearly unique - fusion artists took different directions and, for whatever reason, ended up sounding more directly derived from groups like Mahavishnu Orchestra than the free-form, spacious Bitches Brew-era Miles.

John Zorn's Electric Masada, here recorded at a gig in New York, is one of the few fusion groups that actually sounds a lot like Miles circa Bitches Brew. The group takes seven Masada compositions and turns them into raging, energetic beasts. "Idalah-abal", from Alef, here becomes a ferocious number with Marc Ribot's guitar jamming on an anchoring riff while Zorn flails away at his saxophone. "Hadasha" is the most Bitches Brew-like number, what with Ribot's wah-wah guitar, Zorn's more controlled blowing, and an open, spacious texture. The performances are inspired and inspiring; fitting for the occasion, part of Zorn's massive 50th birthday bash in New York.

Throughout it all, the percussion holds the group together and provides a consistently interesting and controlled backdrop to the sometimes chaotic improvisation (particularly by Zorn and electronics whiz Ikue Mori). With two drummers and a percussionist, the rhythms here are fascinating yet always groovy; for instance lending the last track, "Kisofim", a Latin shuffle kind of feel. With such a reliably interesting rhythm section, Zorn and his cohorts are free to jam into outer space. And jam they do.

If you enjoy fusion a la Bitches Brew - wide-open improvs anchored by a great groove and the occasionally rocking riff (and spiced up, once in a while, by an intensity that compares best to Naked City) - Electric Masada is one of the best things that's come along in the past decade. No exaggeration.

-Brandon Wu

The Lineup: John Zorn, Marc Ribot, Cyro Baptista, Ikue Mori, Joey Baron, Kenny Wollesen, Jamie Saft, Trevor Dunn. Not too shabby. Amazing shit.

Mazel Tov

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