The prolific head of Tzadik’s sublime work mixes jazz, Hebrew melodies and genre-bending beauty.
In 1995, the New York composer, saxophonist and visionary John Zorn embarked on a years-long project for his avant-jazz label Tzadik. Called Radical Jewish Culture, the themed series of releases celebrated Hebrew artists both known and unknown, in the process resurrecting ideas and melodies that were on the verge of vanishing after the Holocaust.
All told the Radical Jewish Culture series has so far issued nearly 200 albums – well, CDs … Tzadik remains mostly a CD and download-only company. (Note: defiantly anti-streaming, Zorn has ensured that his recorded music is tough to find online, even YouTube.)
One trio of tribute releases in the series, called Great Jewish Music, celebrated the work of songwriters Serge Gainsbourg, Marc Bolan and Burt Bacharach. Among the participants? Dozens of brilliant jazz and underground musicians including Marc Ribot, Eyvand Kang, Blonde Redhead, Arto Lindsay and Oren Bloedow.
The entire RJC project is an astounding feat, and serious volumes of deep listening are nestled within. But Zorn’s work is the centerpiece, especially his recordings as Masada. A mix of jazz, pensive Hebrew instrumental odes, string-driven chamber music created by a tight posse of pros, Masada features musicians including Dave Douglas, Erik Drew Feldman, Greg Cohen, Marc Ribot and John Medeski, among others.
The double CD Bar Kokhba, from 1996, is one of the most exquisite jazz records of the decade.
A celebrated figure in Europe and Japan, Zorn traveled to Poland with his Bar Kokhba Sextet in 1999. The show was captured on video, and is a revelatory look at Zorn and band’s expertise.
The above concert cuts off before the finale, which is a drag because that piece, Gevurah, is one of Zorn’s greatest achievements – no small feat for an artist who has released 240 solo and collaborative albums, according to Discogs.
Here’s that final jam of Gevurah.
Bar Kokhba Sextet:
Mark Feldman: violin
Erik Friedlander: cello
Marc Ribot: guitar
Greg Cohen: bass
Joey Baron: drums
Cyro Baptista: percussion
John Zorn: conductor
Bonus: Masada String Trio at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.