The second concert of the John Zorn event at the Walker Art Center was a trio of Masada performances, mostly focused on the Book of Angels material. (The Book of Angels is a collection of Zorn’s compositions with a Judaic theme that have been recorded by a number of different bands and soloists.) Zorn’s Masada work is my favorite of his vast output, both live and on record, so I was particularly looking forward to this set, even though I’ve seen all of the performers many times before.
First up was a solo performance by cellist Erik Friedlander, playing material from the eighth volume of the Book of Angels, Volac. I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen him play this material – off the top of my head I can think of eight – but I never get tired of it, and I swear he just gets better and better. He began with Harhaziel, which has always been one of my favorite pieces from the Book of Angels series. The studio version is beautiful, but hearing it live just takes my breath away – the intensity evokes such a visceral emotional response in me. The fourth piece he played was one of my favorites of the whole day/night – an intricate, contemplative pizzicato piece played with absolute delicacy and enormous depth of feeling. The kind of thing you can just close your eyes and get lost in.
His fifth and final piece was Sannul, which is another of my favorites from the album. Completely different from the previous piece, this one is played at approximately Mach 3. It’s the sort of impressive piece that makes audiences leap to their feet for a standing ovation. I was able to sneak a little video footage:
After that piece, they took a moment to rearrange the stage and the Masada String Trio walked out: Erik Friedlander on cello again, Mark Feldman on violin, and Greg Cohen on bass. They all faced each other in a tight circle, with John Zorn conducting from a seat on the floor.
The Masada String Trio is one of the oldest Masada bands, going back about fifteen years. The result of such a long collaboration is a band that can (and does) turn on a dime even during the wildest improvisations. They played four pieces from their first Book of Angels album, “Azazel”, and an encore, Tahah, from the first Masada book. I still had my camera out for the first piece and sneaked a little more video footage:
Another highlight of their set was Tabaet, which had some beautiful contrasts between pizzicato passages and a violin that flowed and floated above the rest of the band. The encore, Tahah, was also a winner – Greg Cohen’s bass line brought in a fantastic groove, and Friedlander and Feldman played brilliantly and energetically throughout. I couldn’t sit still listening to that one, it’s a mandatory foot-tapper (or in this case, head-nodder, because I try not to make noise by tapping my feet at concerts!).
Bar Kokhba was the last band of the Masada set, and I was particularly excited for my friends to see them for the first time. They are one of my all-time favorite bands. In addition to the three players from the Masada String Trio, Bar Kokhba brings in three more musicians who are overflowing with talent: Marc Ribot on electric guitar, Joey Baron on drums, and Cyro Baptista on percussion. Like the string trio, they’ve been playing together since the 90s (actually, some of them have been playing together since the 80s) and they can do no wrong as far as I can tell. They’re an incredibly tight band, they work up an amazing groove, and the solos are often transcendent. (There are not many bands where I find myself wanting to use the word “transcendent” a lot, but it is one of the first words that comes to mind with Bar Kokhba.) What I’m trying to tell you is if you ever get a chance to see this band, GO! 😉 Every single one of them is incredibly talented – one of John Zorn’s many strengths is the ability to put together absolutely astounding groups of musicians to play together, and I think this is one of the best he’s ever assembled.
The first piece they played was Sother from “Lucifer,” which is the tenth volume in the Book of Angels series. Your hard-working blogger captured it on film (OK, OK, it was a MicroSD card):
As good as that was, it only got better from there (and I put my camera away to fully enjoy it!). They played another Book of Angels piece, Dalquiel, which is a favorite of mine – Marc Ribot played some extremely fine guitar solos on his brand new bright orange guitar… the kind that make me want to use the word “transcendent” again. But I’m not going to use that word because I have to save it for the encore they performed after another standing ovation: Kisofim. That is one of my favorite pieces from their 50th Birthday Celebration triple-CD live album (which is, by the way, the first thing you should buy if you are wondering what Zorn/Masada material you need to own).
Now that piece? That was TRANSCENDENT! The melody and energy were so positive and uplifting – starting out laid back, grooving, with a little surf-guitar flavor, but then the guitar and drums and everything built up to a state of such intensity, it just about put me through the ceiling. We gave them another standing ovation and left the concert in a great mood; we then retired to the bar to talk about what we’d just heard and eagerly await the next set, which I will cover in my next blog along with the midnight performance of the Hermetic Organ.