Once upon a time, cohorts in John Zorn’s circle in the Lower Manhattan music scene spoke of a mutt classicism. Today, some two decades hence, young musicians fully conversive in written music and in popular music (the two being, in many cases, mutually exclusive) are often drawn to an artfully astringent realm of what would probably be called minimalism, if they weren’t, by definition, self-conscious about ever risking boring their audiences.
Raz Mesinai is such a musician. Though he’s best known for his trenchant modern dub, which updates the Caribbean sound with Middle Eastern elements (he was born in Jerusalem) and digital production (he did come of age in the 1980s), his skills are well beyond that. Some of his best dub, like his intense contribution to the BSI Records compilation Docking Sequence (2000), infuses the genre with piercing string playing. Later, on Cyborg Acoustics (2004), a release for Zorn’s record label, Tzadik, Mesinai ditched the dub entirely, for a driving near-orchestral feel that has the gusto of one of Glenn Branca’s old guitar symphonies, but composed (yes, there’s that word) with virtuoso musicianship in mind (musicianship that Branca’s early writing often had no use for).
On Mesinai’s homepage currently, a full track off Cyborg Acoustics has been made available, “Ghost of the Gulag (Reprise)” (MP3). It’s a tremendous piece, meaty in its playing but kept aloft by its hesitance to ever fully resolve; it just keeps churning. One resists calling it atmospheric, but it is; this just happens to be a particularly dense atmosphere, like Venus-dense. Mesinai is credited with sampler, percussion, processed piano and “objects,” and other contributors to the album (if not to this track in particular) include Mark Dresser (contra bass), Mark Feldman (violin), Okkyung Lee (cello) and Zorn (alto sax). More info at tzadik.com and razmesinai.com.