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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

John Zorn - Masada Songbook One (USA 1993)

Masada Book One

I have had an interest in the music of John Zorn for some time now and have a moderate sampling of his vast catalogue in my CD collection. A man of prolific output, covering a huge range of the modern music vocabulary, mostly rooted in the idiom of jazz. Up there with other prolific geniuses like Sun Ra and Frank Zappa, Zorn's music has always been adventurous and exciting. Not all of it is to my liking and some of the more out there Avant-Guard/Experimental stuff is a bit hard to digest(especially his early game peices like Lacross), but for me, the Masada Songbook is the highlight of his output so far.
I am not a musician, or composer, and so, the intricacies of composition and improvisation are beyond my understanding. In about 1993, Zorn decided to write 100 new songs for what he called Radical Jewish music. The compositions were written with certain rules, such as the number of Staves, and  the modes and scales used, as well as being able to be playable by any small group of instruments.
He then put together a Quartet of Himself on Sax, Dave Douglas on Trumpet, Greg Cohen On Bass and Joey Baron on Drums to play and record this music. Another 100 songs were written over the next couple of years, bringing the total of the First Masada Songbook to 200 Songs. Many of these Songs were recorded by the above mentioned Masada Quartet and released on 10 volumes between 1994 and 1998, each volume being named after the first letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Over the following decade and more, the song book has been recorded by many musicians within the Zorn stable in various musical groups with different instrumental line ups, also several excellent live collections were release by the original Masada Quartet.
I believe that I now have ALL the  releases of the First Masada Song book(although some are only digital, as the original 10 volumes are not that freely available, but I will secure them all on Cd eventually) and after a bit of research I found that while a large number of the songs were debuted on the original first 10 volumes, quite a number were recorded and released on other CDs. Loading All my collection into itunes and listing the songs in alphabetical order I have found that all up there appears to  have been 150 songs released over 30 separate releases. I believe that leaves 50 songs in the songbook still unreleased.

The following list is all the Masada Book One Releases:

Masada: Alef (1994; DIW)
Masada: Beit (1994; DIW)
Masada: Gimel (1994; DIW)
Masada: Dalet (1994; DIW)
Bar Kokhba (1994–96; Tzadik)
Masada: Hei (1995; DIW)
Masada: Vav (1995; DIW)
Masada: Zayin (1996; DIW)
Masada: Het (1996; DIW)
Masada: Tet (1997; DIW)
Masada: Yod (1997; DIW)
First Live 1993 (2002; Tzadik)
Masada Live, NYC, 1994 (1995; Jazz Door)
Live in Jerusalem 1994 (1997; Tzadik)
Live in Taipei 1995 (1997; Tzadik)
The Circle Maker (1998; Tzadik)
Live in Middleheim 1999 (1999; Tzadik)
Live in Sevilla 2000 (2000; Tzadik)
Live at Tonic 2001 (2001; Tzadik)
Masada Anniversary Edition Vol. 1: Masada Guitars (2003; Tzadik)
Masada Anniversary Edition Vol. 2: Voices in the Wilderness (2003; Tzadik)
Masada Anniversary Edition Vol. 3: The Unknown Masada (2003; Tzadik)
Masada Anniversary Edition Vol. 4: Masada Recital (2004; Tzadik)
Masada Anniversary Edition Vol. 5: Masada Rock (2005; Tzadik)
50th Birthday Celebration Volume 1: Masada String Trio (2004; Tzadik)
50th Birthday Celebration Volume 4: Electric Masada (2004; Tzadik)
50th Birthday Celebration Volume 7: Masada (2004; Tzadik)
50th Birthday Celebration Volume 11: Bar Kokhba Sextet (2005; Tzadik)
Sanhedrin 1994-1997 (Unreleased Studio Recordings) (2005; Tzadik)
Electric Masada: At the Mountains of Madness (2005; Tzadik)

The Music itself is a fantastic blend of  Jewish kletzma fused with Jazz, the original Masada Quartet being based on Ornette Colemans Original Jazz Quartet of the 1960s and heavily influenced by that mans music, so we have an exotic blend happening with bits of  classical, avant-garde, thrash and rock etc thrown into the mix. The music is consistently of a very high standard of musicianship and song quality across the entire 30 releases and the production and sound is exceptional.

The Following is a list of the 150 songs I have across the 30 releases and what releases they come from.

Note: This project I started some time back but is talking too much time and I only got to song 16(See below) and as I don't want to delete what I have assembled so far, I will post this as incomplete but will add the full list of songs from my itunes library.

01: Abed-Nego: In the Bible, a young man who with Meshach and Shadrach emerged unharmed from the fiery furnace of Babylon.
Appears on Masada Vol 8: Het 
One and only appearence on Vol 8 

02: Abidan: Son of Gideoni, was a judge and head of the tribe
of Benjamin at the time of the exodus. Meaning: My father (i.e.) God has judged
First appears on Masada Vol 3:Gimel but also appears on 10 other occasions:
Bar Kokhba Disc 1
Bar Kokhba Disc 2
Sanhedrin - 1994-1997 Unreleased Studio Recordings [Disc 1]
Masada: Live in Jerusalem Disc 2
Masada Guitars - Bill Frisell
Masada Recital -Mark Feldman/Sylvie Courvoisier
Voices in the Wilderness Disc 1 - Jewlia Eisenberg
Masada String Trio: 50th Birthday Celebration, Vol. 1
At the Mountains of Madness Disc 1 - Electric Masada
At the Mountains of Madness Disc 2 - Electric Masada

03: Abrakala: Meaning is a little obscure, but it appears that it is an early Jewish version of  abracadabra and may mean "I will create as I speak"
This track's one and only appearence is on Masada Vol 10: Yod

04: Acharei Mot: Hebrew for “after” or “after the death" from the "Torah" and The Book Of Leviticus

 First appears on Masada Vol 9:Tet  and also on the following releases:
Masada: Live at Tonic, 2001 Disc 1
Masada: Live at Tonic, 2001 Disc 2
Sanhedrin - 1994-1997 Unreleased Studio Recordings [Disc 2]
50th Birthday Celebration, Vol. 7
Voices in the Wilderness Disc 2 - Peter Apfelbaum

05: Achshaph: "fascination", a royal city of the Canaanites, in the north of Canaan (Josh. 11:1; 12:20; 19:25). It was in the eastern boundary of the tribe of Asher, and is identified with the modern ruined village of Kesaf or Yasif, northeast of Acre.

Appears on Masada Vol 2: Beit and also on Live In Taipei

06: Ahavah: "Love"
From Masada Rock By Rashanim.

07: Amarim: As in "Likutei Amarim" Hebrew, "collection of statements", an early work of Hasidic philosophy, by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Hasidism, first published in 1797.

It's only apperence is on Masada Vol 8:Het.

08: Anakim: A pre-Canaanite tribe, dwelling (according to Josh. xi. 21, 22, and Judges i. 10, 20) in the hill country of Judah and in the Philistine plain (Hebron, Debir, Anab, Gaza, Gath, Ashdod). Three clans are mentioned: Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai (Judges, i. 10; Num. xiii. 22). These names seem, from their form, to be Aramaic; but what this fact signifies is not clear. The Anakim are said to have been conquered by Caleb (Josh. xv. 14; Judges, i. 20), who received their territory. In Deut. ii. 11, the Anakim are called a branch of the Rephaim, which is perhaps a generic term. The Hebrew of Num. xiii. 33classes them also with the Nefilim; but the clause is not in the Greek, and is probably a late gloss. In Judges, i. 10, the conquest is ascribed to Judah. How far the Anakim had been absorbed by Canaanites and Philistines is uncertain. On the genealogy in Josh. xiv. 12-15 and xv. 13, see Hebron and Kirjath Arba. T.

Appears only on Masada Rock  - Rashanim

09: Arad: A city in Israel.
Also appears only on Masada Rock - Rashanim

10: Aravot: Aravah (ערבה, pl. aravot - ערבות) is a leafy branch of the willow tree. It is one of the Four Species (arba'ah minim - ארבעת המינים) used in a special waving ceremony during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. The other species are the lulav (palm frond), hadass (myrtle), and etrog (citron).
Appears on The Circle Maker Disc 1 - Masada String trio and Masada Anniversary Edition, Vol. 4: Masada Recital - Mark Fieldman/Sylvie Courvoisier.

11: Ashnah: Biblical City in Israel.
First appears on Masada Vol 1: Alef
Also on:
Live NYC 1994
Live In Middelheim
Masada: Live in Jerusalem Disc 2
50th Birthday Celebration, Vol. 7

12: Avelut: The year of mourning after the burial of a parent.
First appears on Masada, Vol. 6: Vav.
Also on:
Masada Guitars - Bill Frissell
50th Birthday Celebration, Vol. 11 Disc 2 - Bar kokhba
50th Birthday Celebration, Vol. 11 Disc 3 - Bar kokhba

13: Avodah: A Hebrew word, literally meaning "work".
Only appearence on:
Voices in the Wilderness Disc 2 - Rashanim

Meaning: Dug over.
A town in the Shephelah or low hills of Judah (Josh. 15:35), where the five confederated Amoritish kings were defeated by Joshua and their army destroyed by a hailstrom (10:10, 11). It was one of the places re-occupied by the Jews on their return from the Captivity (Neh. 11:30). Only Appearence on:
Masada Anniversary Edition, Vol. 4: Masada Recital - Mark Feldman/Sylvie Courvoisier

15:Bacharach: As in Bert, was all I could find.
Only appearence on:
Masada, Vol. 7: Zayin

16:Bahir: "Book of the Brightness"is an early work of esoteric Jewish mysticism which eventually became known as Kabbalah. Or An Arabic boys name.
Only appearence on:
Masada Rock -Rashanim


Le Zornographe said...

Hi, congratulation for this work,
I think you should add "Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass" from the Cracow Klezmer Band ( in your list.
Also, several Masada tunes can be found on Filmworks VIII, IX and XI.
Finally, this site could be helpful :

Good luck.

Le Zornographe

Roddus said...

Hi Le Zornographe,

Thanks for the links, the Cracow Klezmer Band did volume 5 of theBook of Angels - Masada Book two, of which I will post about that serire sometime in the future. I see Vol 18 is about to be released.

I have some of Zorns Filmworks sets and was aware that some of them had tracks in the same style as the Masada stuff, but I haven't had time to give them much attention. Will see if I have those particular ones, thanks.