Masada (band)

From Academic Kids

Masada is not so much a band as a musical project that John Zorn embarked upon in the early '90s. It is a collection of more than 200 short tunes that have been written in accordance with a number of rules. These include the maximum number of staves, the modes or scales that are used and the fact that they must be playable by any small group of instruments. Given the historical associations of the project's name (see Masada), the Hebrew titles of the compositions, and the Jewish imagery on the covers of the associated albums, Zorn was clearly exploring his Jewish roots. "The idea with Masada is to produce a sort of radical Jewish music, a new Jewish music which is not the traditional one in a different arrangement, but music for the Jews of today. The idea is to put Ornette Coleman and the Jewish scales together." [1] (

Zorn formed the group Masada in order to record and perform this set of tunes. The personnel is John Zorn, alto saxophone, Dave Douglas, trumpet, Greg Cohen, bass, and Joey Baron, drums. A number of different drummers have performed with Masada over the years, most regularly Kenny Wollesen. Masada recorded the music on a series of ten CDs on the Japanese DIW label and a number of live recordings on Zorn's Tzadik label.

In the last few months of 2004, Zorn wrote over 300 new tunes for the Masada songbook. Some of the new tunes were debuted at Tonic, NYC in December of 2004, as a mini festival.


Related projects

Since the middle '90s a number of new projects have arisen under the Masada banner. The Masada String Quartet performs the music in a semi classical form with Mark Feldman, violin, Erik Friedlander, cello, and Greg Cohen, bass. Bar Kokhba is a lounge style band with, among others, Greg Cohen, bass, Marc Ribot, guitar, Anthony Coleman, piano, David Krakauer, clarinet, John Medeski, organ and piano, Mark Dresser, bass, Kenny Wolleson, drums, and Chris Speed, clarinet. Various arrangements of these players can be heard on the albums Bar Kokhba and The Circle Maker, both under Zorn's name.

One of Zorn's most active Masada project of recent years is Electric Masada. Drawing on Zorn's wide ranging stylistic influences, the band takes the Masada songbook into a whole new direction. The group, which includes Ribot, Wollesen, and Cyro Baptista, from previous Masada groups, as well as Trevor Dunn on bass and Jamie Saft on keyboards, continue to take the Masada themes and transform them into something entirely new. Zorn uses hand signals to conduct the band, allowing for him to make up different arrangements on the spot. During Zorn's 50th Birthday Celebration at Tonic, NYC in September 2003, Electric Masada was recorded live. Released in May of 2004, Electric Masada: 50th Birthday Celebration Volume Four became the group's first official recording.

10th Anniversary

2003 saw the 10th Anniversary of Masada and Tzadik released four new CD sets in commemoration. The first release, Masada Guitars, has three guitarists, Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot and Tim Sparks, playing the tunes, mainly acoustically. Volume 2, Voices in the Wilderness, has a huge range of groups and individuals playing and Volume 3, The Unknown Masada, has yet more new groups, together with some familiar faces playing Masada tunes never before performed in public. A fourth volume, Masada Recital, performed by Sylvie Courvoisier on piano and Mark Feldman on violin, followed in 2004.

The Future

John Zorn seems to be continuing the development of his Masada project into the new millennium. We will have to wait and see where it will go next.

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