John Zorn's dreams
Lucifer is the latest album featuring Bar Kokhba, Zorn’s Masada string sextet (a breathtakingly tight ensemble: Mark Feldman, violin; Erik Friedlander, cello; Marc Ribot, guitar; Greg Cohen, bass; Joey Baron, drums; Cyro Baptista, percussion), this time playing a slew of new Masada songs. Zorn started writing Masada music in the early ‘90s: initially 100 compositions (200 more in the years since), jazz heads, each written in one of the two “Jewish scales”—a major scale with the 2nd note flat or a minor scale with the 4th note sharp. Zorn wrote the tunes without specifying instruments. The first Masada band, and still the classic one, was a pianoless jazz quartet (Zorn, alto sax; Dave Douglas, trumpet; Cohen, bass; Baron, drums). But the string groups, which Zorn conducts, unveiled the harmonic colors. All their albums are beauts, and Lucifer may be the most satisfying: like a breezy drive along the Amalfi coast, with hairspin curves, taken at full speed, hard traction, and cool aplomb. You can dance to it, in your head and on the floor.
The Dreamers is silkier still. It features members of the Electric Masada band (Zorn, Ribot, and Bapista, plus Jamie Saft, keyboards; Kenny Wollesen, vibes; and Trevor Dunn, bass), but the music isn’t Masada; it’s more a mix of ska, Hawaiian wah-wah, blues, New Wave movie-scores, and howling rock and roll. It’s not the slightest bit camp. (Nothing of Zorn’s is.) These guys are into this deep, and they take you in with them.
The sound quality is superb, especially Lucifer, which is engineered by Jim Anderson, who has been sorely missed from jazz recordings since he ducked into academia a half-decade or so ago.