Electric Masada - 50th Birthday Celebration Vol. 4
7 songs (72:32)
Release year: 2004
Reviewed by Charles
Archive review
John Zorn’s music always used to represent something of a utopia for me. For those not heartily sick of me relating my life story, try to imagine the importance of the realisation that this type of music existed, to a kid trying to make it as a jazz musician but who would actually prefer to be listening to metal on pretty much any given occasion. Zorn was a saxophonist who had worked with Mick Harris and Dave Lombardo; he hadn’t observed metal with an arched eyebrow as many jazzers do, and he wasn’t one who only recognised the Dream Theaters of the metal world, because they could relate to their musicianship. He recognised how vital the extreme metal of Slayer or Napalm Death was, and saw that musical progress could be greatly served by the arrangement of a meeting between this new creature and improvised jazz. He could produce sounds on his instrument that were easily comparable to the most frenetic of thrash lead solos. Yep, this was the holy grail.

For me, Electric Masada is one of his best-realised projects. It is probably more enjoyable to listen to than Naked City, and certainly more so than the often highly abstract Painkiller, but also less metal than both. He has also been involved with Mr Bungle in the past (Trevor Dunn is the bassist here), and that’s also a semi-useful comparison, in that both are heavily eclectic and adopt metallic ideas as one of many key elements. But this music is largely improvised, and is far more organic and expansive than the collage approach of Mike Patton’s greatest band. It is the finest expression of musical postmodernism.

The order of the day here are lengthy vamps that are used to frame occasionally bursts into unison melodies, which tend to be predominantly inspired by the Jewish folk songs of Zorn’s heritage. Solos are of course in abundance, but the major emphasis is on spontaneous group interaction, with the individual rarely privileged above the whole. Marc Ribot’s electric guitar is frequently relied upon to characterise the texture, and this shines through on a track such as Idalah-Abal, which lumbers metallically in a manner reminiscent of early King Crimson’s heaviest moments. Hath-Arob, on the other hand, is barely contained chaos, with the unison sax and guitar interjections on the one hand sounding a lot like Ornette Coleman, but on the other generating a sense of entropy that may well appeal to admirers of early Napalm Death at their most extreme. At times, his saxophone playing works just like a shredding guitar. The high point, however, is the closer, Kisofim, a restrained and beautiful Western film-inspired melody, which seems more structured than the rest of the songs.

It goes without saying that this isn’t “metal” by a long shot, but it is certainly worthy of the open-minded metalhead’s listening time. It reveals to us the welcome truth that disparate musical disciplines have far more common ground than we think. If you want something more explicitly related to the metal scene itself, go for Naked City or Painkiller. In the long term this one has less shock value but more listenability.

Killing Songs :
Kisofim, Idalah-Abal
Charles quoted 84 / 100
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