Album: Masada Guitars

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Masada Guitars

As part of the tenth anniversary celebration of his composition project “The Masada Songbook,” John Zorn’s Tzadik records released a gem of an album called Masada Guitars. Featuring Marc Ribot, Tim Sparks, and Bill Frisell, this album contains over an hour of beautiful guitar music–some acoustic, some electric; some dry, some soaked with echo and reverb effects.

Masada Guitars
Masada Guitars

The entire album is comprised of songs only taken from the Masada songbooks, which began when John Zorn challenged himself to write 100 tunes in traditional Jewish music styles. The Masada Songbook has since grown to over 500 compositions, with a wide array of recordings by wildly different ensembles and performers: Mike Patton, Masada, Bar Kokhba Sextet, Masada String Trio, Secret Chiefs 3, Erik Friedlander, Medeski, Martin, & Wood; Electric Masada, and The Dreamers–to name just a few.

It’s a great opportunity to hear the differing styles of three very different guitarists playing music by the same composer. Tim Sparks sounds arranged and polished, with beautiful clean technique; Marc Ribot is bold, rough, and exploratory; Bill Frisell is shimmering, lyrical, and sometimes strange. All are fantastic players, and hearing each in relation to the others makes the experience even more interesting.

Masada Guitars is definitely worth picking up.

More Masada Book Guitars

If you’re hungry for more, like I was, check out Ipos: Book of Angels Volume 14, which features Marc Ribot in a lead role, shredding up the Masada songbook interpreted as surf rock. Ribot rips it up backed by keys, percussion, and vibraphone in a truly unique band setting.

Still not enough? You may be ready for Electric Masada, a large and powerful improvising band conducted by John Zorn himself to create sonically devastating, one-of-a-kind performances. With two drummers, a percussionist, bass, keyboards, guitar, electronics, and saxophone, this group is not for the faint of heart–and because they play some of the very same tunes as Masada Guitars, it provides an interesting angle on how differently two groups can perform the same sequence of notes.

Nicholas Tozier

Nicholas Tozier is a book hoarder and songbird from the woods of Maine. In 2012 he made a small cameo in Songwriting Without Boundaries by Berklee professor Pat Pattison, and was named one of CDBaby’s top 10 Songwriting Resources to follow on Twitter.

There are 4 comments

  1. Nice write-up.

    It’s so refreshing to find a guitar site where a writer is familiar with John Zorn.

    Just wanted to add that one more Masada-guitar album for the more adventurous listener would be Asmodeus (B of A Vol 7). One of my favorites but I am an avowed Ribot junkie.

    1. Hey, thanks Jay! I haven’t heard Asmodeus yet but I will be there before long… I’m listening to the entire Book of Angels and writing reviews. Word on the street is that there will also be a Book of Angels volume from Pat Metheny playing solo guitar next year…

  2. Looking forward to hearing what Metheny does with some of these melodies, though I am still holding out hope JZ asks Frisell to do an entirely solo outing of Masada tunes (perhaps for Book 3).

    I did finally get my Dreamers Book Two wish though so I can’t complain too much.

    I also really love Haborym (Vol 16 I believe), the second BofA from Masada String Trio. They’re the project for which I think these songs resonate the most for me.

    1. The Masada String Trio really is fantastic. Haven’t heard Haborym yet but I loved Azazel.

      I don’t react as strongly to Frisell as I do Ribot or Sparks. Wasn’t Ipos great, though?!

      Just got Ribot’s Asmodeus. Should be an interesting ride.


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