September 2003 marked the 50th birthday of John Zorn, and to celebrate, Tonic hosted a month-long celebration of Zorn's various musical groups and projects. The shows were recorded, and the best of them are being released as a new series on Zorn's "Tzadik" label.
The first offering is the entire early set by the Masada String Trio, recorded on September 4, 2003, with Zorn conducting Mark Feldman on violin, Erik Friedlander on cello, and Greg Cohen, on bass. This group has been performing this material for more than six years by 2003, and the interplay between them is something to behold. Each player is a virtuoso, in complete command of his instrument, and the apparent ease with which they negotiate these tunes is amazing. Whether they're responding to an eager, appreciative audience, or just geared up for the Zorn festivities, one really gets a sense that something special is taking place at this show. Many of the tunes performed here are also on Circle Maker, but these versions tend to be much longer than the Circle Maker versions, giving each player plenty of room to solo. And what amazing playing -- these guys really know the repertoire as well as the other players, and the level of communication is just awe-inspiring. From soloing to comping, bowing to pizzicato techniques, the set is dazzling from start to finish. Only "Malkut" and "Karet" are anything but beautiful, sounding like pieces left more open to free improvisation than the others, and allowing other facets of the players' abilities to come out. The Masada songbook has elicited a rather large number of truly excellent recordings from its various ensembles. Add this one to the list. Recommended.