With the release of Masada Guitars, John Zorn begins a ten-year anniversary celebration of his Masada songbook. On this project Zorn asked three of his favorite guitarists (Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, and Tim Sparks) to contribute solo renditions of his pieces. Why solo guitar versions of these pieces? It was a wise choice in both personnel and instrumentation. From the perspective of composition, this recording reveals the strength, subtlety, depth, and beauty of Zorn's writing. His music has a wonderful lyrical, singing quality that becomes more apparent the more it's stripped down. That's the hallmark of any great song. These songs convey a sense of time, deep and dusty, where even the smallest gesture carries great meaning. After listening to other versions of these pieces, I'm awed by the power of the solitary voice. It provides a stronger sense of intimacy and reveals different emotional qualities in the music, showing just how great a composer John Zorn can be.
This recording also reveals how powerful the modern guitar can be. Zorn chose three very distinctive players to interpret these pieces. Each guitarist shapes and cuts his own world of sound out of Zorn's compositions. Bill Frisell imbues his selections with quiet grace, goofy wit, friendly challenges, and a depth of understanding that is downright humbling. He works and pulls at the edges of strong melodies, fashioning them into brilliant new colors. Listening to Frisell on this album is like taking a walk in a teeming ancient forest along with an old friend filled with stories and a talking bird on his arm that points the way home.
Marc Ribot is another kettle of fish altogether. His vision reveals a darker, edgier side of Zorn's pieces. Ribot's tone is gritty and elemental, cutting to the core of the tune right out of the gate. He brings a directness and muscularity to the songs that reflect the composer's New York roots. Listening to Ribot work these tunes is like driving an old green Dodge pickup truck down a gravel road with Sam Shepard and a dog. It's a trip worth taking!
Is Tim Sparks the secret son of John Fahey?' What a wonderful player. He approaches these songs with the expertise and conviction of a river gambler on the Delta. In his hands, the music surges and pulses with poise, bravado, and quick turns of phrase.
Masada Guitars speaks to the modern mind with ancient roots, and besides, it's loads of fun!