Seminal New York composer & saxophonist John Zorn hit the big time with his Masada project– a book of 100 short tunes that combine Jewish music and a “downtown” inclination towards improvisation and experimentation. The Masada tunes have been performed by numerous ensembles and soloists: the original Masada quartet (Zorn, Dave Douglas, Greg Cohen and Joey Baron), the Bar Kochba chamber ensembles, the Masada string trio, Masada Guitars, Electric Masada and so on and so forth. The music’s popularity played a serious role in crowning Zorn the “leader” of the downtown avant-garde scene. There is no doubt that he is a major force in bringing the music of “Radical Jewish Culture” to the fore, especially through his label Tzadik Records (and its newly redesigned web site).

Though the tunes are already a decade old, somehow the new settings kept the music relatively fresh. Until recently, it seems. When Zorn released Masada “tribute” albums in honor of the music’s 10th anniversary and trudged out nearly every Masada ensemble to play at his month-long 50th birthday party last year, I began to worry.

So now Zorn is trying to recreate the magic. According to Zorn’s favorite venue Tonic, Zorn will be premiering brand new Masada music 12/8-12/10:

MASADA MINI FESTIVAL – WORLD PREMIERE of John Zorn’s MASADA: BOOK TWO

With Jamie Saft (keyboard), Ben Perowsky (drums), John Zorn (alto sax), Erik Friedlander (cello), Ikue Mori (drum machine / power book), Dave Douglas (trumpet), Marc Ribot (guitar), Cyro Baptista (percussion), Sylvie Courvoisier (piano), Greg Cohen (bass), Trevor Dunn (bass), Shanir Blumenkranz (bass), Jon Madof (guitar) & Mathias Kunzli (drums). Ten years ago John Zorn composed the first 100 Masada tunes in a single year. From September to October of 2004 he composed an unprecedented 240 tunes in only two months, and the book continues to grow. This special mini festival brings together the best of the Masada Family in a kaleidoscopic premiere reading of 80 new tunes from the second book of Zorn’s most popular musical project. New music every set so come early and come often!

Some of the best musicians I have ever heard play will be on stage at Tonic (although Joey Baron’s absence is somewhat conspicuous), so I have no doubt that these shows will be thrilling– especially to the uninitiated. Whether Masada II can compare to the original, though, we’ll have to wait and see.