February 25, 2024

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CD review: Oded Tzur – Isabela 2022: Video, CD cover

Saxophonist and composer Oded Tzur resurfaces in ECM waters for his follow-up to 2020’s Here Be Dragons, a maiden voyage that, like this spiritual twin, was a musical parable.

Rejoined by pianist Nitai Hershkovits, bassist Petros Klampanis, and drummer Jonathan Blake, he examines the fluidity of structural principles and the materials involved in their making.

From the threads of “Invocation,” the quartet sews the binding of its thematic pages in “Noam,” which speaks through melodies that roll off the soul’s tongue. In “The Lion Turtle,” Blake taps the edges of his kit like someone testing the shell of an egg for vulnerabilities (and finding none). Klampanis’s solo feels like an extension of Hershkovits’s (and vice versa). Suggestions of alternate realities fade as quickly as they appear. Tzur’s unraveling is profundity incarnate, gracing the inner circle of every chord change as the tongue might move a morsel around the mouth for proper chewing. The result is more than a conversation; it’s an interactive prayer.

The title track awakens suddenly yet quietly. Love is the universal whisper here, as supple as skin. A near-stillness shifts midway into a locomotive dream before allowing the dawn to have its way. “Love Song For The Rainy Season” whips up the most energetic passages of the album, ending it on a cymbal crash that dissipates in breath.

At 36 minutes, Isabela is quintessentially about quality over quantity. The depth of interpretation promised by repeat listening far outweighs the expectation that a mere profession of duration may court from the skeptical heart. Tzur plays as if shielding his eyes from the sun, seeing in the distance a vessel he might have known as a child yet which is now haggard and without a sail, going only where the water and waves will permit it. He swings and whispers, meditates and shouts, holding each dichotomy as a eulogy.

The Israeli-born, New York-based saxophonist Oded Tzur touts a carefully constructed musical style that comes with both elegance and a personal touch. His focused horn sound shaped with timbral grace can be heard on the five tracks of Isabela, the follow up to his ECM debut Here Be Dragons. Tzur is in command of a qualified quartet whose lineup remains unchanged since his last album, featuring Israeli pianist Nitai Hershkovits, Greek bassist Petros Klampanis and American drummer Johnathan Blake. They blend jazz and raga with a unique perspective.

The brief “Invocations” kicks off the recording with a spiritual undercurrent that feels like a big, warm hug of welcome. This makes for a fantastic Chalan-like intro, where it’s impossible to ignore the effective mallet art and kick-drum work of Blake. Yet, “Noam” and “Love Song For the Rainy Season” are where the album really shines. Inspiringly, the former piece offers an enchanting melody over a soothing chordal sequence, immersing us in a liberating jazz-raga dance where the tenor reaches a certain hoarse splendor. At a later time, the trills and half-tone shifting roundabouts infused by Hershkovits create a bit more mystery before the group reinstates the main statement. The latter piece is the one that closes out the album, carrying a lightness and breeziness throughout a process that, besides changing meter during the motivic piano solo, also includes drum expansion and winding saxophone trajectories.

The gracious “The Lion Turtle” dissimulates an intricate tempo while boasting a strong folk feel. It counts on a trio of ad-lib sections under the melodic control of Klampanis, Hershkovits, and Tzur. The saxophonist also brings his beautiful sense of melody to the fore on the slow-evolving title track, which, starting as a quiet whisper, is marked by interesting piano details and sensitive brushwork.

This affable jazz recording is sculpted with a detached elegance that never gets the music too heated. Hence, you can expect introspection and poised tones to override energy-filled rhythms or grooves. That said, it all sounds organically pleasurable and the saxophonist’s playing is very special indeed.

A1.Invocations
A2.Noam
A3.The Lion Turtle
B1.Isabela
B2.Love Song For The Rainy Season

Oded Tzur tenor saxophone
Nitai Hershkotivs piano
Petros Klampanis double bass
Johnathan Blake drums

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