Masada’s eighth volume of free-jazz meets klezmer Jewish music gets very much back on track after the relative mixed bag that was the seventh volume ‘Zayin’. Also somewhat striking is that ‘Het’ is a much easier ride than before; the sometimes aggressive drive and dramatic changes are here given a notably smoother (though ‘smoother’ by John Zorn standards) sound, and we even have ballads!
Opener ‘Shechem’ starts almost as a standard jazz-with-middle-eastern-inflections stroller before gradually building into some very Ornette style free sounds, but Joey Baron’s deft tom-toms driving everything skillfully and even catchily. Zorn and Douglas get some good solos in too, and the eleven minutes passes in no time. ‘Eliliah’ though then reigns things in with a fairly rare Masada ballad, that over just four minutes weaves a spell of dual melodies, before moving nicely into a second slower number ‘Kodashim’, where Greg Cohen gets to deploy a warmly welcome bass solo.
And just as you think Masada may be getting a bit too comfortable ‘Halom’ throws in two minutes of free and wild playing, seemingly almost just to act as a palette cleanser. It works too, with the strikingly eastern sounding groove piece ‘Ne’erman’ that follows positioning the quartet as late-night smoky jazz players, and Greg Cohen’s bass leading with some relaxed noir drive. Infectious and gorgeous, it’s probably the strongest thing here, and again shows Zorn and Douglas at their very best – both as soloists, but also when cross-cutting and interweaving with each other.
‘Abed-Nego’ and ‘Tohort’ display some typical Masada-like mid-way changes, though in very different ways, and ‘Mochim’ again eases on the pace for perhaps the groups most ‘standard’ ballad piece, which features some nicely woozy sounding lead sax work from Zorn.
‘Amarim’ then jumps in with some winding melodies powered by a very strong bassline that leads into Cohen being given his second big moment of the album, almost funkily pushing everything forward, before Baron gets to show his stuff, percussively dancing on top of the strutting groove. And things then round off nicely with ‘Khebar’, a mid-tempo stroll providing a nice bed for the two winding horns, and then coming to a perfect close.
Het is an interesting Masada record then, choosing to forgo the usual kinetic fireworks frenzy that can at times typify both Zorn and the group. Here the four players try a slightly different tact, and create something equally satisfying, and perhaps even more mesmerizing – a great disc stuffed with intriguing and strong material, played to perfection and all guided by an outstanding rhythm. Perhaps not the finest Masada around, but certainly one that offers something a bit different and on the strength of that, and on the actual music here itself, this is certainly one of the must-check releases from this most impressive of groups.