Saturday, June 27, 2009

Masada Quintet feat. Joe Lovano - Stolas (Tzadik, 2009)

The idea of combining the music of the classic Ornette Coleman quartet and middle eastern melodies was the guiding light behind the formation of John Zorn's long running Masada band in the early 1990's. After more than a dozen releases by the original band, Zorn went in a different direction, inviting other musicians to present their own interpretations of the voluminous Masada songbook. The core group on this album are all frequent collaborators on Zorn and Masada projects: Dave Douglas on trumpet, Uri Caine on piano, Greg Cohen on bass and Joey Baron on drums. The ringer is Joe Lovano on tenor saxophone, whose grounding in traditional bebop takes the music in an interesting direction. With Lovano and Caine, the group functions like a conventional modern jazz band. The compositions still have a middle eastern inflection which makes them alluring, like the opening tracks "Haamiah" and "Rikbiel" which are short and pithy performances and my favorite track on the album, "Tashriel," where the band throws caution into the wind and takes off into free jazz territory with an explosive presentation. Some of the longer improvisations like "Rahtiel" and "Tagriel" tend to drift a little bit as if the band is trying to find out how to embrace the slower tempo compositions, but they do feature fine bass solos from Cohen. Lovano also solos well throughout the album, he doesn't sound uncomfortable or out of his element in the slightest. The front line of Lovano and Douglass is excellent, and it makes you hope they have the opportunity to collaborate again in the future. This was one of the most melodic albums in the long running Masada series and it marks a good entry point for people curious about the series. The addition of the piano and Lovano's bop based saxophone push the music in a different direction without making it any less unique.
Stolas -

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