Album reviews

Oded Tzur – ‘Isabela’

Oded Tzur – Isabela

(ECM Records – ECM 2739. CD Review by Graham Spry)

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From the very first notes of the opening track on saxophonist Oded Tzur’s latest album Isabela, there is an impression of spiritual wonder. Invocation has a majesty and presence that heralds what is to come, rather like the first notes of John Coltrane’s classic Love Supreme. And this is no accident. Just as Coltrane was deeply influenced by the sonorities of Indian classical music and its attendant spirituality, so is Tzur. He has studied under the Indian grandmaster and flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia and adapted the sound of his tenor saxophone to the intricate melodies and spiritual depth of the Bansuri, the Indian flute. Invocation isn’t just the opening track, it also introduces motifs that are elaborated in the following suite of tunes.

Tzur’s goal of bringing the rigorous demands of Raga to Jazz is more evident on Isabela than on the album’s predecessor on ECM Records, Here Be Dragons, which featured the same quartet of jazz musicians. He is joined by Greek bassist Petros Klampanis  whom Tzur has played with since 2011 when he first left the Tel Aviv jazz scene and relocated to New York. Fellow Israeli Nitai Hershkovits is on piano and US-born Johnathan Blake is on drums. Blake has a rich jazz pedigree: he has led his own trio with Chris Potter and Linda May Han Oh, and his father played violin with McCoy Tyner among many others.

After the aptly titled Invocation comes Noam which establishes a steady tone with Hershkovits’ delicate piano, Klampanis’ unobtrusive bass and Blake’s expressive brushwork over which Tzur’s saxophone soars with a constant sense of yearning. The track begins in a deceptively tranquil mood that becomes steadily more free. This is followed by The Lion Turtle where the saxophone is at times evocative of Charles Lloyd’s excursions into gospel-inflected spiritual jazz.

Isabela, the title track, is a delicate allusive tune based on the self-written poem that Tzur has provided on the album sleeve. The poem strives to articulate how not only a person, such as Isabela, can be, as he says, ‘like a song’ but that all the world is immersed in a transcendent sound to which the senses need to be properly attuned. It is likely that this is the message that Tzur is expressing on the album as a whole.

The final tune, Love Song for the Rainy Season, brings the album to a conclusion on an essentially optimistic and life-affirming note. The music builds up gradually to a percussive middle section perhaps meant to capture the sound of heavy rain in the thunder of Blake’s drums and the passion of Tzur’s saxophone before coming to an affirmative final note. This may be the track that inspired the album’s cover photograph of open still waters abutting a dense forest.

This is music that very much belongs in the jazz tradition. This is an excellent album that wears its spirituality lightly although it is infused into every note. The album was recorded in Auditorio Stelio Molo in Lugano and has been superbly produced by ECM Records boss, Manfred Eicher.

LINK: Isabela at Presto Music

Categories: Album reviews

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