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Friday, September 6, 2013

John Zorn: Tzadik Round-up

Closing out our John Zorn birthday week celebration is a round-up of recent releases on Zorn's label Tzadik. From his work with his prolific label to the ever interesting live concerts offered at his music room, "The Stone" in New York City, to his own work that was highlighted this past week, Zorn's influence hovers large over avant-garde music.

A big thank you to Martin Schray for all his work in making this week of celebration possible!


Bester Quartet: The Golden Land ****

By Martin Schray

The Bester Quartet is one of this blog’s favorite groups, they have released seven albums on John Zorn's Tzadik label and their new one is again part of his "Radical Jewish Culture" series, presenting songs by the Polish-Jewish poet and songwriter Mordechai Gebirtig, who – like the band – was a Krakow native (where he was also killed by the Nazis).

The band basically still consists of Jaroslaw Bester (bayan), Jaroslaw Tyrala (v), Oleg Dyyak (bayan, cl, perc) and Mikolaj Pospieszalski (b). On this album the lineup is augmented by trumpeter Tomasz Zietek, cellist Magdalena Pluta (from Samech, which is also a Tzadik/Radical Jewish Culture band) and bass clarinetist Marcin Malinowski and similar to other collaborations like Shofar they also want to revive what is left of Jewish musical culture after the holocaust in Eastern Europe. Interestingly enough, this approach, which is worthy of praise, was also criticized accusing the bands to use the Jewish tag as a promotional help (which is something I can’t see).

Like on their earlier releases they are clearly in the klezmer tradition again but the songs they chose are of an almost ecstatic vividness due to tango elements (“Di Lalke”) and gypsy jazz influences (“Shloymele Liber”).

The highlight of the album is “Unser Orem Kind” (Our Poor Child), a beautiful, sad and mournful ballad which forebodes the future of the Jews in Europe, and in which Zietek, whose style reminds me of Nils-Petter Molvaer, and Tyrala play heartfelt solos supported by a reluctant yet tight string arrangement.

Listen to a mix here:

Jon Madof - Zion80 (Tzadik, 2013) ****

Okay, how weird can it get? What can you expect when someone tries to mix the music of the Jewish religious folk songs by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach with Fela Kuti’s Afrofunk? Has anybody tried to do anything like that before? Can it work?

The common denominator between the two musicians is their political approach. Fela Kuti fought Nigeria’s military governments of the 1970s and ’80s, while Carlebach’s composition “Am Yisroel Chai” (“The People of Israel Live”) was used by Russian Jews as an anthem to get rid of the oppressive Soviet government of the cold war era.
Jon Madof, a guitarist and orthodox Jew, gave this unorthodox mixture of styles a try. To be honest I was really skeptical about this project but I was also absolutely surprised when I heard it in the end. The wind section arrangements are extremely tight and funky, they remind me of the great maverick US songwriter John Trubee and his band Ugly Janitors of America, the organ and the guitars alienate the originals very nicely adding a cool hippie element to the songs, a track like “Nygun” even stands in the tradition of Pharoah Sanders’ and John Coltrane’s African projects.

This is excellent, unusual and good-humored party music, played by a great band (13 musicians!) – a real treat.

Listen to “Holy Brother” here:

Gabriele Coen Jewish Experience - Yiddish Melodies in Jazz (Tzadik, 2013) **½

Compared to Madof’s project Gabriele Coen’s album, which is part of John Zorn’s Radical Jewish Culture” series as well, sounded much more promising but cannot fulfill the expectations.

In Yiddish Melodies in Jazz Coen (soprano and tenor sax, clarinet) and his band (Pietro Lussi on piano; Lutte Berg on electric guitar; Marco Loddo on bass and Luca Caponi on drums) wanted to explore the relationship between Jewish music and American Jazz, especially the influence classical Jewish music like klezmer has had on this most American of all musics. That’s why they chose tracks that have become standards of the great American jazz songbook like “Bei mir bist du schoen” or “Di grine Kusine”.

In the end Mr Coen’s approach does not always work, though. Especially the sound of the soprano and the guitar in the first pieces is too smooth making it sound like “muzak” that can be heard in elevators. The last four tracks are more interesting but all in all the band can hardly add new ideas to the well-known melodies.

Listen to the first track ”Bublitcki“ here:

Massacre: Love me tender (Tzadik, 2013) ***½

Unfortunately this is not really a new album by this almost legendary free rock band consisting of Bill Laswell (b), Fred Frith (g) and Charles Hayward (dr, melodica, voice). The album presents five songs which were recorded live in 1999 during their European tour, the other songs are from 2008.

What we get is the usual Massacre brew with Laswell’s massive, dark wah-wah bass, Frith’s shredded and echoing guitar lines and Hayward’s stoic beats which he can turn into wild drumming, it is the well-known mixture of gloomy dub reggae (“The North Reaches to the Ankle”), sound sculptures (“Chapter Amber”), free rock (“In Search of the Nervous System”), ambient noise (“Madness is Medicine”) and disco funk á la Parliament (“Rosey Good Shook”). The result are very tight and varied soundscapes, especially when Hayward adds his melodica. Hopefully there will be a real new album soon.