Oded Tzur: Isabela

Israeli saxophonist draws on the 'breathing' poetry of the bansuri flute and on raga inspirations probably trailing back to Coltrane

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I first came across the Tel Aviv born, New York domiciled Tzur through chancing upon the 2015 Like A Great River in a small outlet in Uzès in France. This was Tzur’s debut recording, on Enja, with Shai Maestro (p), Petros Klampanis (b) and Ziv Ravitz (d). If I was drawn to the mythic overtones in the album’s title, I was no less struck by the fact that here was someone who, while clearly aware of Coltrane, was very much in search of his own voice.

Tzur’s ECM debut of 2019 – Here Be Dragons – continued the mythic theme with Klampanis from Great River still present but with Nitai Hershkovits (p) and Johnathan Blake (d) now rounding out the quartet.

Together with the leader’s statements, Steve Lake’s sleeve-note for Here Be Dragons elucidated the importance of Indian classical music for Tzur, in terms of the subtleties of tone and interval, rhythmic accent and melodic extension available in the the world of raga. Also crucial has been the “breathing” poetry of the work of the bansuri flute master Hariprasad Chaurasi – with whom Tzur studied some years ago.

I get the linear and microtonal implications of the raga influence but am struck more by the Chaurasi factor. Tzur has an enticing, subtly graduated and patiently projected tenor sound and can sustain a yearning, slightly hollow quality, redolent of wood rather than metal: hear the intimately pitched The Lion Turtle and Isabela. And while Coltrane would still appear a chief affinity – sample the brief, rubato Invocation or the rising and driving potency of Love Song For The Rainy Season, where Hershkovits and Blake come on strong – the passion in Tzur is made all the more evident by the dynamic finesse with which he builds his laid-back yet potent, measured yet liquid and lyrical lines. An excellent album, featuring finely attuned playing all round.

Discography
Invocation; Noam; The Lion Turtle; Isabela; Love Song For The Rainy Season (35.31)
Tzur (ts); Nitai Hershkovits (p); Petros Klampanis (b); Johnathan Blake (d). Lugano, September 2021.
ECM 4506014