I suppose America should be categorized as jazz, since it was made by two musicians who have played jazz in the past. The underrecorded Cooper-Moore usually appears on piano, and Assif Tsahar is best known for his Ayler/late Coltrane-style tenor saxophone workouts—and these men play those instruments here, but this is a recording that defies categorization. You could say America is an old fashioned concept album, and I expect its ambition and totality of conviction will continue to reveal itself over the years with repeated listenings. It’s one of the most profoundly heartfelt and interesting CDs I’ve heard in a long time.
The opening title track on America is anchored by Cooper-Moore’s bracingly deep and resonant homemade diddley-bo, creating an ominous mood suited to the lyrical accusation he sings/raps à la Gil Scott-Heron. Assif Tsahar’s tenor wails in the slightly distant background, expressing the undercurrent of anger and frustration in Cooper-Moore’s words. In a better world, this song would be a hit on MTV2. “Back Porch Chill” lightens the intensity with a simple melody stated by Cooper-Moore’s strummed banjo (sounding like a steel guitar) and Tsahar blowing softly on bass clarinet, and the lovely “Tortoise and the Buzzard,” a composition for guitar and mouth bow. Sounding as if they could have been recorded on the banks of the river Niger in Mali, they demonstrate how much the American musical vocabulary has in common with other sounds of the planet.
“Tuscarora’s Cry” and “No Cracklin No Bread” go even deeper into the jungle, or maybe the swamp, with Cooper-Moore producing birdsong on what might be a wooden flute and slapping drum skins while Tsahar breathes calmly on bass clarinet and tenor. “12th Avenue Messengers” shakes us back to the city, as Tsahar runs up and down his tenor and Cooper-Moore rides a cymbal.
“Lament for Trees” appears twice, once as a tenor-piano duet, again as a piece for tenor and diddley-bo. Both are moving and deeply felt, as Tsahar brilliantly evokes a sense of perseverance and summons the inner strength to carry on. These men have something to say, and they use a universal musical language to say it.