Yesterday I had a couple of hours to kill while I was waiting for my daughter, who was participating in a Chemistry Olympiad, and found a used copy of "Masada Guitars" (Tzadik 2003) at the FYE Store in the nearby Mall. First off, I was shocked that the FYE even had a jazz section and second, though it was small, was also surprised to find it had both new and used CDs. And finally, was pleased to find not only this disc but also Keith Jarrett's 1992 ECM recording "Changeless", one of the few of the Standards Trio's works I did not have and an unusual one at that as it is one of the few to feature that group doing totally improvised works. But I digress.
As I have written in the past I have overcome my immediate knee-jerk reaction to pass on Zorn as I have found more and more pieces that are appealing, like "Alhambra Love Songs", "O'o", "Mount Analogue", and "The Gnostic Preludes". So I picked up Masada Guitars to look at what it was and who was playing and saw that it was Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, and Tim Sparks. That wasn't so good -- I am not a fan of what I hear from Ribot for the most part -- too much electic guitar skronks and squealing. Frisell I know can go either way, but when he is mellow his playing is wonderful. And I had no clue about Sparks, a new name to me. And was it made up of solos, duets, or trios? Acoustic or electric? And what was the format -- one song or many -- the jewel case was blank on all of that.
Good to have the iPhone and allmusic.com to refer to, since clearly nobody at the store was going to know about this disc. To make a long story short(er), All Music let me know that it was made up of 21 solo pieces from the body of Masada songs, in celebration of Masada's 10th anniversary, each selected by the individual guitarist. Seven works are played by Frisell, nine by Ribot, and five by Sparks. But that was okay too, because all but two of the works are acoustic, and surprisingly those two are played by Frisell. All Music in fact says "Those expecting an electric romp through the Masada songbook might be disappointed; Masada Guitars consists entirely of solo, mostly acoustic performances. Preconceptions aside, this is a beautiful album." Further, "Marc Ribot, Bill Frisell, and Tim Sparks each bring their own voice to these tunes: Sparks with his rich fingerpicking... Ribot coming from his classical guitar background, [and] Bill Frisell with his unmistakable ethereal tone. Sparks' renditions are on steel string acoustic ... [and] Marc Ribot's playing on what sounds like a nylon-string classical guitar." Less was said about Sparks, but it turns out he too was classical trained, in this case by Andre Segovia, and his background is in classical, folk, and new age music.
The music lives up to the descriptions above. The mood is meditative, very mellow, and the playing is wonderfully soothing. Unfortunately the two electic pieces by Frisell break up that mood, but since all the pieces are short -- 2 to 4 minutes -- the two departures are not deal-breakers. The names of the songs may be derived from Jewish themes, but the music is not noticably middle eastern. It is just pure guitar work, some of it amazingly intricate, by three masters, and a tip of the hat to Ribot in particular for his beautiful work on those nylon strings.
For those who like Zorn and/or for those who like accoutic guitar play this is a must listen delight. Once again I am glad I didn't react immediately in the negative to the names Zorn and Ribot.
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