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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