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Masada - Malphas (Book of Angels Vol 3) [Tzadik - 2006]

Since the original ten Masada albums were released we have seen many new arrangements of these pieces first given life by the quartet of Zorn, Barron, Cohen, and Douglas. Guitar, rock and chamber ensembles have all given these tunes new twists and perspectives. The original albums showcased John Zorns idea of radical Jewish music, contemporary but holding on to many of the traditions dear to Klezmer. The recent series of Masada releases subtitled the Book of Angels have been taken from over three hundred new songs composed by Zorn over the last couple of years, this collection he calls Masada book two.

Pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and violinist Mark Feldman tackle eleven of these new pieces with some of most dynamic and virtuoso playing you will ever hear. Recorded to the usual stunning production standards of Tzadik releases every note seems to leap out of your stereo.

Opener Basus is typical of the new material having a melodic but somehow more melancholic feel than the much of the old Masada. The melody is tossed back and forth between the players, each going off on short improvisational tangents before returning to the central theme and beginning again. The intertwining of the two musicians playing being comparable to John Zorns Sax and the trumpet of Dave Douglas on the original ten Masada albums.
Rigal the third piece on the album is probably my favourite on the CD. It begins with a gorgeous dual melody from the piano and violin that sounds so enchanting that it could have been picked from a classic Danny Elfman score, but even better than that. It brings to mind snowbound scenes of children running across icy lakes and through forests. This piece seems to be an example of the differences in the Masada book two compared to book one. There’s more drama and evocation of themes and emotions outside of the usual Klezmer Jazz idiom. No more is this demonstrated than on the Mozart quoting Labaziel.
Many of the eleven works here demonstrate a less straightforward approach to the material. There are many passages that border on atonal random variation like on the Katziel or Sammael.
Paschal mixes gloomy low piano notes and violin solos with abstract bowing and Courvoisier’s trademark inside the piano playing.

There’s pretty much something for everyone in terms of style on Malphas, some of the tracks may well appeal to mainstream classical music radio while others would seem better placed at a dimly lit improv night in downtown New York. The Masada recordings like Zorns overall output is varied and rewarding, and this disk is a perfect example of that.

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Duncan Simpson
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