31 January 2008

Nedstalgia: 5 Years Ago

[Previously in Nedstalgia: Phish shows 1 & 2, #3 #5 ,#6-9, #10, #77 & 78, #79, #80&81, #82-84); Mule; Widespread Panic #1 (& 'ween 97); The Duo; Robert Randolph HORDE 92 (i.e. Phish #4, WSP #1), Freaks Ball III, Galactic NYC 97]

A quickie version of Nedstalgia in re: Electric Masada.

Tonic, 31 January 2003

Download the show here:

Early set: part 1 part 2
late set: part 1 part 2 part 3

If not my favorite band of the last 5+ years, Electric Masada is certainly in the conversation. I've seen them on New Year's Eve 3 times and every show has been a jaw-dropping revelation of the 1st degree. Over the years the exact make-up of the band morphed a bit, but has finally settled on pretty much a steady rotation today which is just about the tightest jamming band out there.

But back 5 years ago, things were in major flux, every time I saw them was a little bit different in the players which lead to a little bit of a different sound. Of course, the core group has always been the same: John Zorn leading the way conducting the improvisation (did you even know that was possible?) and playing sax, Marc Ribot on guitar, Kenny Wolleson on drums, Trevor Dunn on bass, Cyro Baptista on percussion. Five years ago tonight, back at the old Tonic, I was able to convince a few folks to go check out that weekend's version of Electric Masada and needless to say, we all left blown away. That version included the group listed above as well as the dueling keyboard combo of Jamie Saft on ultra-groovy electric piano and the one and only Jon Medeski on organ. Saft eventually would be the full-time guy for EM, but back then Medeski was a big part of the picture. The strange thing in looking back is I think this show was the last time I saw Medeski play with Zorn... I never understood what happened between those guys, but can't speculate.

Anyway, for the uninitiated, Electric Masada is truly the closest thing you'll come in the present day to the old Miles Davis electric bands. I've often said that the "Electric" both refers to the fact that they're plugged-in vis-a-vis the other Masada bands, but also to the quality of their playing. It is electric, live wire, shocking. Deep, free form, funky, evil, evil grooving. This show was no different. Tonic was the perfect setting for these guys and I'm not sure they've played more than a gig since the old joint closed down. That night the room was probably only half-filled for the early set we caught. The atmosphere was conducive for moving around and getting different angles on the music and perspectives on the players. The music that came from the stage that night would have convinced any mortal that it was the greatest thing ever. It was. Of course, that happens every time these guys take the stage.

My one true memory of the music played by the band was one particular solo from Marc Ribot. It was a stretch of playing that unwrapped my gray matter and rendered me dumb. It was as if he had note for note synced with the rotation of the Earth on its axis and resonated with everything in the galaxy. Raunchy notes rendered a surprisingly clean line up and down the fretboard swirling the band behind him in his wake like dust trailing a semi on the highway to your soul. Whew! I actually uttered the words "that was the greatest thing I've ever heard" to myself when it was done and consider myself a changed man ever since. And yet, I've had similar experiences nearly every time I've seen Ribot play, which isn't nearly enough these days. I can trace the fulcrum of my Marc Ribot obsession to that singular solo, though... the moment a deep love became something impenetrable.

The other major memory of the night was Jon Medeski. For a band that operates with the highest form of intraband interaction, his presence, listening back, made Electric Masada
less tight, but in a gloriously messy way. Medeski is a beautiful player, but his tendency is always to fuzzy up the borders, not neaten them. Almost always, this is to purely benevolent effect. Today's version of Electric Masada has two drummers and a percussionist and operates with the precision of a Swiss timepiece... even if it's one of those Dali clocks melting over the side of a cliff to oblivion. But you can see how substituting a drummer for an organ player, everything else being equal, can change the horizon considerably. That's where these guys were operating.

Anyway, I highly recommend the download for fans and the unknowns alike. This is improv at its greatest. Think "Live Evil" with a tasty Ashkenazi twist; or Ribot, Medeski, Wolleson... great tastes that taste great together. I will note that the show I've got up there is from the following night of the 2-night run. I saw them on 1/31, this is the early and late sets from 2/1. Doesn't really matter in the long run, they bring it the same every night, which is to say that every gig is a new adventure every step of the way. Enjoy!


neddy said...

Programming note: the 2nd part of the early set seems to be experiencing technical difficulties for download. If the problem does not right itself I will reup this evening.

Thanks for your patience.

neddy said...

This has been fixed, new link should work. Thanks for your patience. Enjoy!