After Masada’s fifth and best volume, ‘Hei’, it seemed unlikely that the Zorn-lead quartet could maintain that peak of Eastern melodies against a strong jazz spirit, and yet entry number six in the Jewish free jazz catalogue is arguably just as good.
A good variety of the different sides of Masada is present on ‘Vav’, with a welcome number of quieter numbers lining up alongside the more intense, knotty and sometimes dissonant personality; but whatever the group play here, their playing is uniformly excellent and their best yet. Better still is Zorn’s writing. Of course, being his songbook, all of the pieces are again written by him alone (although with improvisational aid from his group here), but for some reason on ‘Vav’ the compositions just seem to be that much more well-formed than perhaps his earlier efforts.
Another winning element to the blend this time around is that Greg Cohen has seemingly been able to step up yet another gear. ‘Shebuah’ is brilliantly introduced by the bassist in style, while on ‘Avelut’ he gets a very good solo into the mix, and yet this is all just in the shadow of his superb supporting of the whole quartet – in particular drummer Joey Baron. On a number of occasions Cohen holds the pace (and pulse) whilst Baron gets to flex with typical aplomb, such as on the excellent ‘Nevalah’ which gives us one of Baron’s potentially career-best solos.
But what of the two leads – Zorn himself and trumpeter Dave Douglas? Again there is some more career-peak work from an already superb team, with the two soloing stunningly, playing dual leads, interweaving, improvising together and Douglas in particular displaying some very fine heart and soul on the slower more openly moving pieces.
‘Beer Sheba’ ends the album with something quite different, sounding more like a Jewish take on Zorns more hardcore rock pursuits. It comes as a surprise, and it won’t be for everyone, but it makes for a thrillingly visceral finale that brings everything to a close with a strong punch.
Masada continue to dazzle, with compelling music equally entwined with an incredible quartet that are probably one of the most exciting and muscular to ever play on record. Quite simply, you need to hear this.