Oded Tzur: Isabela (ECM 2739)

Oded Tzur

Oded Tzur tenor saxophone
Nitai Hershkotivs piano
Petros Klampanis double bass
Johnathan Blake drums
Recorded September 2021
Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Cover photo: Sebastião Salgado
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: May 13, 2022

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.

(This review originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)

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