I think that John Zorn is the kind of person who would milk a cow until only dry skin is left, often without too much concern about the value of what his milk pail contains when he goes to the market. He is also commercially clever enough to bring all the albums on his label out in different series, often with numbered volumes, in the hope of getting the collectors among us to all look forward to the next release, wallets at the ready. And I must admit, I am one of them. Not all of his releases are worthwhile, and his 50th birthday celebration series could have been more compact, as could his Masada Songbook, etc. But a major success from the very beginning was his Book Of Angels series, and especially this album was one I was really looking forward to, secretly hoping this one would also be a double CD (which it is not), as were the three previous ones (Bar Kokhba, The Circle Maker, 50th Anniversary 11) with the band consisting of Mark Feldman on violin, Erik Friedlander on cello, Marc Ribot on guitar, Greg Cohen on bass, Joey Baron on drums and Cyro Baptista on percussion. If Zorn should be remembered for one thing - and I think he should be for many things - it is for this wonderful musical fusion he created. Bar Kokhba brings a unique mixture of klezmer, classical orchestration, world music, chamber jazz, latin, rock, and not in the bland way that is often the hallmark of fusion, but this music is something entirely different, new, refreshing, accessible, melodic, rhythmic ... beautiful. The nice thing about the music is its simple restraint and musical wealth, deep sentimentality and bluesyness, yet avoiding any cheap effects or other pitfalls. All musicians shine on this album. Listen to Ribot's bluesy guitar on "Zechriel", adding his usual 50s rock 'n' roll tremolo bar effects to his sound, or to Friedlander's dark arco on the gloomy "Mehalalel", or to Feldman's frenetic solo on "Abdiel" and how Friedlander reacts to it, while the whole rhythm section builds up the tension for a grand finale. The wonderful economic effectiveness of bass, drums and percussion are not only absolutely unusual, but could also be a nice example of the adagio that "less is more". What you hear is a full sextet from beginning to end, yet the music remains light-footed, dancing, with melody and music receiving the full attention. It all sounds so simple, but believe me, it is not. Simply excellent.
Listen and download from iTunes.
Watch a video from a 2007 performance in France