The last guitar-based exploration of Zorn's Masada material was the rather wonderful Masada Guitars (2003), on which three leading guitarists were featured. Now Pat Metheny has followed in the footsteps of Marc Ribot, Tim Sparks and Bill Frisell by releasing his own album of Masada material ... and the results are in some respects very surprising.
Using his "orchestrion" of instruments triggered mechanically from the guitar, Metheny sounds for much of this album like a full band, even though the only additional musician is Antonio Sanchez on drums. The arrangements and reharmonizations - coupled with the range of lead guitar voices used - go some way towards justifying the rather extended length of these tracks.
In addition to the range of instrumental colour, though, Metheny has managed to distinguish the tracks strongly. There are moments in "Mastema" or "Tharsis" that sound very much par for the Book of Angels course, but contrasts abound on this album. "Phanuel" - a protracted piece of pastoral that emerges out of chilled ambience - is one such highlight: a piece with a depth and intensity that has rarely been equalled in the entire BoA series.
To go from "Phanuel" to the game-style mechanical wildness of "Hurmiz", which sounds like the player piano works of Conlon Nancarrow, is to step between very different worlds. While other interpreters of Zorn have attempted to show a stylistic range, none has been quite so persuasive.
In all honesty I find that some of these pieces (for at least some of their length) can meander, and the album could have been even more convincing with more, and shorter, pieces. That said, however, this is a major entry in this large series and perhaps the best by a star guest not already strongly associated with Zorn.
I hope that we can hear more of Metheny & Zorn working together in the future, since both seem to benefit from the collaboration. Recommended.