Preview: John Zorn’s “Masada – Angels at the Vanguard”

Today we’ve got a guest blog from Concert Manic’s renowned Ohio correspondent, Mark Allender – you may know him as the voice behind the excellent Masada: Book of Angels Facebook fan page. Today he has given us an in-depth preview of John Zorn’s special series “Angels at the Vanguard.” It’s Zorn’s first appearance at the world-famous Village Vanguard in New York City, and – true to form – he is doing it differently than everyone else, with eleven different bands performing in six nights instead of the usual Vanguard format of one band playing twelve sets in a row. I’m planning on being at every set, but if you need to pick and choose a couple to see, this post has everything you need! – Sarah V.

Feldman/Courvoisier – Malphas
Tuesday 9/2 @ 8:30 pm
In the Masada canon, there is a type of piece that Zorn refers to as an “event piece.” Specifically, in an event piece, the score calls for periods of guided improvisational playing that lasts for a certain amount of time. A score might indicate a melodic phrase, followed by a period of frenetic playing, which cuts off into a period of drones, which segues into another melody. These periods are typically guided by a conductor, who is typically Zorn himself, who is typically very entertaining to watch doing it. OR, in the case of Mark Feldman and Sylvie Courvoisier, these event pieces are led by body language, where wild, screeching noise turns on a dime to the sweetest, most elegant chamber music you’ve ever heard with a nod, or a full-body gesture or even half a raised eyebrow communicating the changes.

Feldman and Courvoisier perform together like dancers. Elegance – you can’t get away from that word when describing these two. Tempo, dynamics, timbre – these wax and wane dramatically – sensuously even – over the course of the music. And they are always intimately in step with each other. Their on-stage chemistry – the physicality of the way they play together – makes this performance a must-see.

Hope to see: “Zethar.” Promises to have the most visual drama.

Eyvind Kang Ensemble – Alastor
Tuesday 9/2 @ 10:30 pm
Eyvind Kang’s Alastor takes Masada into a lush orchestral realm of splendor and majesty. In Xanadu did Eyvind Kang a stately pleasure dome decree. Exotic – with a pan-Asian flair, Kang’s arrangements communicate a mysticism not found in the other recordings. All sonics have soft edges, creating a dream-like atmosphere accented by slow, sensual percussion. This music would not be out of place in a Bollywood film score. The ensemble for the evening is comprised of Kang on viola, Mark Feldman on violin, Erik Friedlander on cello, Doug Weiselman on clarinet, Graham Haynes on cornet, Hidayat Honari on guitar as well as the tar (a six-stringed central Asian lute), Shahzad Ismaily on bass, and Ches Smith on percussion. With such a versatile set of musicians on the set, I can only imagine this will sound amazing.

Hope to see: “Variel.” That opening flourish makes me happy every time I hear it.

Jamie Saft Trio – Astaroth
Wednesday 9/3 @ 8:30 pm
My entry into the Book of Angels series was volume 3 by Feldman/Courvoisier. But it was volume 1 by the Jamie Saft Trio that kicked this series into an obsession. Saft had previously been known as an electric keyboard player with an occasional thing for death metal. In this all acoustic jazz piano set, the results are sublime. Saft has a couple playing signatures that I love. First, the guy LOVES to play in triplets, which in the jazz trio format creates an air or a breath to the music that is just amazingly cool. Second, in more raucous passages, he plays like a cat jumping around on the piano keys. In the trio, Saft is augmented by the incomparable Greg Cohen on bass, and Kenny Wollesen on drums. The original trio featured Ben Perowsky on drums. And no slight against Wollesen, but I kinda miss Perowsky with this group. The lightness of his playing on the recording mixed with Saft created something really special. But what am I saying? Wollesen is an accomplished vibraphonist – if he can’t bring it, nobody can.

Hope to see: “Shalmiel.” For me, this tune is like a first kiss.

Uri Caine Trio – Moloch (?)
Wednesday 9/3 @ 10:30 pm
The Uri Caine Trio performance is somewhat of an unknown quantity at this point, since Caine’s Masada contribution Moloch is an extended solo performance. It would be hard to characterize it as a jazz recording. But if his trio set is comprised of the tunes from Moloch reimagined in a jazz trio setting – and I expect that it is – then we are all in for a real treat. Caine’s last trio recording (his 2011 album Siren) shows his bright and punctuated style interacting with the bass in a manner unusual for a piano jazz trio. In this set, he will be performing with Greg Cohen on bass and Joey Baron on drums – his cohorts in the 2009 Masada Quintet project. Frankly, I can’t wait.

Hope to see: “Hayyoth.” I can’t even imagine this tune in a jazz context. Therefore I want to see it. [I couldn’t get the embed code to work right on this one, so click the link to check this one out – Sarah V.]

Erik Friedlander – Volac
Thursday 9/4 @ 8:30 pm
Cello is known for being an instrument of virtuosity, but not creativity. It’s a rare cellist who can compose or arrange a body of work that coaxes such a wide palette of textures out of the instrument as Erik Friedlander has with his solo recording Volac. Some of the tunes have a stately Bach-like quality. Others like “Zumiel” – one of Zorn’s “event pieces” – explore the capabilities of the instrument. With such an intimate performance, you are forced to draw your attention in close. The subtleties of playing are therefore magnified – it can get overwhelming.

Hope to see: “Zawar.” Chills baby. Chills.

Zion80 – Adramelech
Thursday 9/4 @ 10:30 pm
At the moment, the latest in the Book of Angels series is Adramelech by Zion80. After a delicate solo cello performance from earlier in the evening, prepare to be blown away from this 11-piece sax-heavy powerhouse. Led by Jon Madof, Zion80 performs Afrobeat music in a Jewish context – pretty much ready-made for a Masada outing. Two guitars, four saxes, trumpet, keys, bass, drums, and percussion. It is physically impossible NOT to groove to this music.

Hope to see: “Metatron.” Musically oppressive with a haunting vocal thing in the middle which I REALLY hope they do live.

Masada String Trio – Azazel and Haborym
Friday 9/5 @ 8:30 pm
John Zorn describes the Masada String Trio as “one of the great groups” in the Masada universe. They are violinist Mark Feldman, cellist Erik Friedlander, and bassist Greg Cohen. That word “trio” though is deceptive, since Zorn himself is very much a fourth member of this group and can clearly be seen seated at the front of the stage with his back to the audience and wearing his signature camouflage pants. Most would say he acts as “conductor,” which is kind of a misnomer. He guides them through the changes, sure, but in moments of pure fun, he is lobbing curve balls at them, keeping them sharp and forcing them to play according to his whims. And it is HERE that the Masada String Trio brings the amazing. It’s often as if Zorn is trying to derail the train – all the while the trio keeps it together flawlessly. This one is not to be missed!

Hope to see: “Garmial.” But frankly it’s going to be a amazing pretty much everywhere.

Banquet of the Spirits – Caym
Friday 9/5 @ 10:30 pm
Banquet of the Spirits is a celebration of music from around the world. While percussionist Cyro Baptista is the undisputed CEO of the group, the head of Research & Development is Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz, who often plays instruments in the bass end of things, but also plays instruments such as the oud, an 8-stringed lute common to Greece, Turkey, and the pan-Arabic countries. With piano virtuoso Brian Marsella and multi-instrumentalist Tim Keiper, this group makes a vast exploration of music the world over. Their Masada disc explores the music of Brazil, Morocco, Indonesia, and others – with touches of jazz and other musical forms. One thing that makes this group unusual in the Masada series is the presence of vocals. Their deep vocal stylings add so much to the music.

Hope to see: “Phaleg.” This is a solo organ recital. I’d just like to see them do it!

Masada Quartet – Stolas and more?
Saturday 9/6 @ 8:30 & 10:30 pm
Probably the hottest tickets of the series are the Masada Quartet shows. This group played throughout the 90’s performing what has come to be known as Masada Book 1. This chordless combo features John Zorn on saxophone, Dave Douglas on trumpet, Greg Cohen on bass, and Joey Baron on drums. Many have compared this group to Ornette Coleman’s group – a characterization that Zorn himself rejects (“that’s full of shit” he said specifically). For their performances, we can expect them to primarily perform tunes from “Stolas,” though they have been known to play other tunes from the Masada songbooks. Zorn again serves as conductor/bandleader with this group, directing the other musicians from the front line, making each performance a dynamic affair.

Hope to see: “Azazel.” This was recorded by the Masada String Trio, but Masada performed it as a six-piece in 2008 at Marciac and it was gorgeous. And oh man do I want to see it again.

Roberto Rodriguez & Masada Octeto – Aguares
Sunday 9/7 @ 8:30
One of the most anticipated performances in this series is Roberto Juan Rodriguez. Rodriguez was born in Cuba and raised on Cuban music growing up in Miami. As a teenager, he would play drums in his father’s various bands – groups that would often play with Miami’s thriving Jewish audiences. As he started to develop his own music, he began actively integrating stylings of both Cuban and Jewish traditional musics into a unique hybrid previously unexplored. Rodriguez technically had his Masada debut in September of 2013 at the Skirball Center of New York University, but has since recorded a full album of Masada tunes called “Aguares” that is set to come out at the end of this month – recorded in Israel with local Israeli musicians. For this performance, Rodriguez has assembled a group he calls Masada Octeto.

Uri Gurvich Trio
Sunday 9/7 @ 10:30
I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about this young buck Uri Gurvich. His self-published bio starts with “Born and raised in Israel, Uri Gurvich won the Jazz Player of the Year competition in Israel before relocating to Boston to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music studying under Joe Lovano.” So there’s that. Thom Jurek of All Music Guide calls him “A major new voice in Jazz,” but frankly Thom Jurek is given to saying things like that. There is this great video ( from one of his shows at The Stone which is probably illustrative of what we can expect this week – some impressive stuff. Uri Gurvich: sax, Leo Genovese: piano, Peter Slavov: bass, Francisco Mela: drums

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