Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Medeski, Martin & Wood - Zaebos: Book Of Angels Vol. 11 (2008)

The last album in the series thus far. This one done by perhaps the most well-known or famous of all the musicians that have appeared in the Masada Books. MMW are definitely known around the jam band scene, which is why I avoided them for so long. I still don't know much of their material, save for a couple of albums...but where I didn't much care for previous work I'd heard, this album and their other album that has been released so far this year "Radiolarians 1" are both outstanding and innovative. Definitely enjoyable, cool stuff.

I guess I will update the blog with the other Book of Angels releases when they end up getting released, but I hope you have enjoyed them so far (they each get about 40+ downloads it looks like).

Oh yeah, over at bolachas, those dudes stole one of my links for the Fred Frith album from this year. Now that has a whole ton of downloads. Funny.

The Book of Angels, Zorn's second book of Masada tunes, has been a continuing source of inspiration for the composer and his legion of interpreters. On Zaebos: The Book of Angels Vol. 11, Medeski, Martin & Wood's intimate understanding of Zorn's working method lends their interpretations of these sturdily crafted tunes an air of cleverly inspired authority.

Embracing a wealth of genres, instrumental combinations and stylistic detours, the veteran trio brings their signature sound to this melodically distinctive body of work; the end result is one of their most satisfyingly diverse efforts.

Dispensing with preconceived boundaries, the trio ranges far and wide across the spectrum of available sound. "Rifion" utilizes classic swinging piano trio dynamics, complete with brief detours into outside playing. "Malach ha-Sopher" unveils a moody, haunting tone poem, while "Jeduthun" adopts the stunning silences, harsh angularity and pneumatic rhythms of Zorn's own jump-cut/collage oriented approach towards popular music.

Plugged-in, the trio burns white-hot as they careen through the whiplash frenzy of "Zagzagel" and the propulsive anthem "Vianuel." Medeski's vintage analog keyboards squeal and sputter, Wood ferrets out subterranean reverberations from a fuzz-toned electric bass and Martin kicks out thorny polyrhythms as the trio basks in waves of distortion and electronic sustain.

Covering familiar ground, "Agmatia" and "Chafriel" ride groovy, modal melodies driven by swirling organ washes, hypnotic bass lines and snappy shuffle rhythms. Revealing their longstanding rapport, they invest the oblique angles of "Ahaij" with a string of inventive solos and edgy interplay.

Maximizing the gorgeous melodic potential of Zorn's writing, "Sefrial" and "Asaliah" recall the dreamy exotica of the composer's lounge-inspired ensemble, The Gift, as kaleidoscopic keyboard washes, languorous bass pulses and spare trap set ruminations expand with cinematic atmosphere.

Zaebos is a homecoming of sorts for both Zorn and the Brooklyn-based trio. An endlessly rewarding listen, this session is one of Medeski, Martin & Wood's most varied and enjoyable releases, and one of the most commanding interpretations of the Book of Angels.-
-Troy Collins,

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bar Kokhba - Lucifer: Book of Angels Vol. 10 (2008)

If you are looking for any one release to start with when it comes to these Book of Angels albums, you might want to start with this one. If nothing else: this is one of my favorite albums from 2008. It's a full band this time around, pulling from a lot of the musicians that graced the first 9 albums (Ribot, Feldman, Cohen, Friendlander) and adds two percussionists in Cyro Baptista and Joey Baron. Amazing set of music. A great mix of some real jazz elements with the klezmer tinge. Watching their videos on Youtube, you can see this is a body of amazing musicians. Just beautiful stuff, great for just putting on and doing your business around the house.

The album hits the ground running-- opener "Sother" splits the theme between pizzicato strings and arco ones supporting guitar. But Masada is less about themes and more about being a springboard for improvisation like any great jazz composition and we get there fast-- Feldman takes an extended, powerful, and fierce solo, completely on fire and nudged along by Ribot. And really, these are the keys to what makes this record fantastic-- great playing and great support as a band whose level of interaction is a mix between near psychic response and Zorn's unique exertions over them (everything from switching accompaniment from arco to pizzicato to not at all to conducting triangle strikes and extending brilliant solos). The disc provides some great moments of sound and contrast, recalling old western themes ("Zazel"), high cinematic drama ("Mehalalel") and a playfulness not often found on Zorn records until recently (the sing-song "Azbugah", which evolves quickly into a brush feature for Baron, who creates a gentle, playful and understatedly brilliant performance). Along the way, we get a series of staggering performances on all instruments, although Feldman seems to steal the show pretty much consistently-- from his frantic performances on the opener and closer ("Abdiel") to his Nashville strains on "Rahal". The only real exception being Ribot's blues-drenched feature "Zechriel", where he digs deep and finds some of his more powerful blues exertions with Zorn swirling the band around him.

I originally started writing reviews on Amazon because I was frustrated with the glowing fanboy commentary that every album that was released seemed to get, but really, there's been nothing but great things to say about Zorn's most recent output, and "Lucifer" is no exception. Highly recommended.
-Michael Stack,

Go watch them on Youtube
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Secret Chiefs 3 - Xaphan: Book of Angels Vol. 9 (2008)

Here's another one. Pretty experimental, but ultimately very rewarding. Some parts are definitely harsh, but not quite as crazy as a typical Mr. Bungle/SC3 album. Very enjoyable overall.

Spruance, best known as the guitarist for the seminal avant-rock band Mr. Bungle, has in recent years been principally absorbed with the Secret Chiefs 3, a project that, like much of Zorn's best work, defies categorization. Spruance has performed for Zorn now and again, although I have to confess that after hearing his criticism of Weird Little Boy (a little digging online will uncover details), I did not expect another collaboration.

But we did get "Xaphan", and am I grateful. Spruance takes eleven of Zorn's Masada compositions and brings them across the world and back again, stray traces of funk, surf, world (particularly Arabic), techno and a thousand other sounds blend seamlessly together to form a cinematic soundscape. The album opens with a deep groove established by bassist Shahzad Ismaily and drummer Ches Smith on opener "Sheburiel" and pretty much never lets go. It manages to be cinematic and mournful ("Barakiel"), full of stunning performances (Rich Doucette's sarangi solo on "Bezriel", Spruance's guitar leads on "Labbiel") and the expected great melodies from Zorn ("Asron" is of particular note). In many ways, the album accomplishes what I felt Koby Israelite's Orobas: Book of Angels, Vol. 4 was trying to do.

I think in the end, this is one that anyone who might be interested in it will be really happy with-- "Xaphan" is a fine example of just how extraordinary both Zorn is as a composer but also of the arranging skills of Spruance. Highly recommended.
-Michael Stack,

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Erik Friedlander - Volac: Book of Angels Vol. 8 (2007)

All these Book of Angels posts are probably getting old, but according to Mediafire stats, people are downloading them, so lets finish off the series.

It's actually funny I didn't get this album last year when I was obsessing over cellist Erik Friedlander's other 2007 album "Block Ice & Propane" (#17 on my top 50 of 2007). Being as that was my first solo Friedlander album, his inventive and warm cello playing definitely made me look into some of his other solo work. My excursion into the Book of Angels series led me to this one, which on a biased note, may also be among my favorites (how many times have I said that so far?).

Let's just be honest for a quick second: the cello is one of the most moving and beautiful instruments there is. Plus, my girlfriend is an awesome cello player. Friedlander brings out emotion in his pieces. Block Ice & Propane told his history of family vacations, cinematic in it's beauty and simplicity, bringing to mind striking images of a forgotten America. "Volac" like all the other volumes in this series, is based on Jewish music (though of course written by Zorn, so not necessarily traditional). Though I can't sympathize and bring up my own personal memories with this release that I could with BI&P, that doesn't prevent the release from being just as cinematic and vivid. It still tells a story through music, it's your job as the listener to put it together.

It is a wonderful, wonderful set of music and incredible edition to a nearly flawless series (Book of Angels) as well as a welcome addition to an amazing catalogue of one of my recent favorite musicians: Erik Friedlander.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Marc Ribot - Asmodeus: Book of Angels Vol. 7 (2007)

Don't judge this album based on the first track alone. It's that crazy fucking skronk rock jazz noise shit that Ribot is known for and the groups on Rune Grammofon are making hip. It's loud and abrasive as all get out and difficult for me to listen to, but this whole record doesn't sound like that.

Which isn't to say that it doesn't have Ribot's signature all over it. It's still full of blistering guitar, jazz that goes everywhere rather than nowhere, touches all spectrums, but never really drags. Ribot further shows Zorn's diversity with his entry into the Masada Book, because this album sounds like none of the other 6 volumes before it, nor much else any music around it. Dude makes it his own, and it slays. It's crazy, it's not my favorite, but it is definitely an adventurous listen.

"Asmodeus" is the seventh installment in John Zorn's Masada Book II. In case anyone reading is unfamiliar, a brief introduction: in the early '90s, Zorn began exploring his Jewish and Jazz heritages through the composition of a songbook of themes that could serve as a sprinboard for improvisation. He composed some 200 songs for the original jazz quartet, eventually expanding the project to be performed by other acts. Over a decade after its inception, Zorn revitalized the aging (by his standards) project by injecting a new songbook into the mix-- the Book of Angels, a collection of around 300 new themes. Instead of focusing on a band this time, Zorn has had different groups perform the material. "Asmodeus" presents ten pieces from the book as performed by a rock power trio led by guitarist Marc Ribot, ably supported by bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer G. Calvin Weston.

What follows is something that, even moreso than Electric Masada did, will shake your impression as to where this project can go. From the opener "Kalmiya"-- it's clear that this is something forceful-- Ribot comes blazing out with a frantic, noisy, overdriven guitar solo over a raging rhythm section before settling into a bit of a monster groove, with the melody eventually floating above (or perhaps in opposition to) a freely associating Dunn and Weston. Quite frankly, it's like Ornette Coleman's Prime Time project on steroids.

While the record admittedly settles down a bit (the second track, "Yezriel", finds the trio slinking into a blues rock feel after the explosive opener), the performance maintains a raging intensity and seemingly endless blistering guitar pyrotechnics throughout. Admittedly, at times this causes the performance to deviate a bit, capturing this sort of performance almost universally works better in a live setting where you can really see and feel the interaction and energy between the band, and here it can cause the pieces to occasionally feel disjoint ("Kezef" where Ribot seems tentative, "Armaros" where Dunn does, at least after his solo). Sometimes I suspect this was the intent-- if the goal was to capture a live energy here, it would stand to reason that you'd avoid repeated takes and sometimes you'll end up a bit disjoint. On the other hand, sometimes you'll end up so disjoint that what you'll have its a piece that bubbles over with so much energy, you can't help but be in awe of it, and Ribot's sound, while consistent on the record, still somehow manages to be all over the map, touching on John McLaughlin ("Yezriel"), Sonny Sharrock ("Cabriel") and Blood Ulmer ("Sensenya"), not to mention literally dozens of others.

One thing I can safely say about "Asmodeus", by the time it wraps up, you can almost feel exhausted. It is an immensely powerful record, and again while perhaps not as consisently successful as other entries in the Masada Book II catalog (the Masada String Trio record comes immediately to mind), this one is so overwhelming in its dissection and deconstruction of the rock idiom that it's hard to think of it as anything short of fantastic. Recommended.
-Michael Stacks,

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Uri Caine - Moloch: Book Of Angels Vol. 6 (2006)

Sorry it's been awhile. Just lost motivation and have been busy and I went to Arizona for a week as well somewhere in there. Anyway I figured I might as well finish the Book of Angels series for you, now that I have 2 followers of the blog! Anyway this one is fun. Uri Caine, if you don't know, is a pretty amazing and inventive pianist. He's actually coming up here to Humboldt in January, so I'm stoked for that. This album is just him, solo piano and it's pretty interesting and invigorating. Anyway as always, I'm too lazy to write a real review so here's one for ya:

Since multi-instrumentalist/composer John Zorn added three hundred new compositions to his Masada songbook in 2004, his label has released seven volumes of Masada Book Two with players including keyboardist Jamie Saft, pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, guitarist Marc Ribot and multi-instrumentalist Koby Israelite all rendering their own interpretations.

Moloch, which translates to king, was a deity to whom ancient Middle Eastern worshipers sacrificed their first born. Thankfully, pianist Uri Caine’s album isn’t as brutal as one might suspect from something named for a god who is often depicted as a man with the head of a bull.

Not to say that it isn’t forceful. At times it’s quite aerobic. Grumbling into a tenacious opening, Caine’s playing is direct and pointed on the first track “Rimmon,” and the energetic “Cassiel”. But it also yields to graceful flirtations like on “Lomiel,” where his left hand skirts gleefully around the heavy rhythm played on the lower keys. “Harshiel” is delicate as Caine plucks out a whimsical melody dusted with Sephardic implications.

Not only does Caine have a foundation in classical music, he has released several albums where he improvises the work of a single composer. He’s tackled Mozart, Mahler, Beethoven and Bach, but never the French composer Erik Satie or Hungarian composer Bela Bartók, thoughts of whom arise as Caine scurries over the keys mingling Jewish folk fragments with classical hues.

A founder of ethnomusicology, Bartók researched the music of regional ethnic groups and incorporated it into his own compositions. What Caine provides, missing from the music of Satie and Bartók, is the element of improvisation. On tracks like “Zophiel,” which begins with a gentle flow and traipses into festive jazz realms, Caine puts his signature straight through. Moloch: Book of Angels Vol. 6 is an album that commemorates a diaspora, pledging devotion to a legacy rife with substance and belief, while presenting a vitalized palette of comfort and renewal.

-Celeste Sunderland,

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