Masada

Masada, Vol. 6: Vav

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Recorded at the Power Station in New York in 1995, Masada, Vol. 6 Vav continues Masada's convincing union of Eastern European and Middle Eastern modalities with the freer, post-bop aspects of jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman. John Zorn's writing is particularly focused and well-informed, full of serpentine lines, mixed meters, and sudden shifts in tempo, while leaving plenty of room for collective and individual improvisation. The ensemble and the individual playing are uniformly superb throughout. Like much of Zorn's work, Vav exists in several simultaneous dimensions. For instance, "Debir," "Mikreh," "Nevalah," and "Nashon" showcase intense and intricate ensemble playing over variously fixed or open forms, which inform the generally caustic, playful and/or melodic improvisations. With bassist Greg Cohen in his pocket, Joey Baron's solo on "Nevalah" is one of the album's highlights. Conversely, "Shebuah," "Tiferet," "Avelut," and "Miktav" are generally slower and quieter. On "Shebuah," Cohen freely introduces the theme; on "Avelut" he solos with fragments of another. Trumpeter Dave Douglas' virtuosic playing is particularly effective at the slower tempos; his soulful solo on "Miktav" is another highlight. One of Vav's unifying threads is the ability of Zorn and Douglas -- sharpened through years of playing together -- to improvise contrapuntal lines together. "Beer Sheba" stands somewhat apart from the rest of the album. Zorn and Douglas slowly and freely state the theme while Baron and Cohen deliver a restless and churning texture. Zorn responds with his now-familiar shrieks over the slowly unfolding music that is reminiscent of his Pain Killer group. Vav is a consummate collection of Zorn tunes played with conviction and empathy by this extraordinary quartet.

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