Oded Tzur's 2020 album, Here Be Dragons
, the Israeli-born, New York-based tenor saxophonist's first release on ECM, triggered an eruption of purple prose. Critics competed to see who could convey the most enthusiasm. A few even suggested that the Tzur quartet was the inheritor of the mantle of John Coltrane
's classic quartet. That might have been over the top, and was certainly prematureHere Be Dragons
was only Tzur's third album in a recording career which had begun as recently as 2015but in general the praise was justified. The album was, and is, a blinder.
The good news is that Tzur's follow-up, Isabela
, is just as good, perhaps better. He fronts the same quartetpianist Nitai Hershkovits
, bassist Petros Klampanis
, drummer Johnathan Blake
and pursues the same trajectory. Exquisite, tender lyricism, composed and improvised, is punctuated by carefully controlled crescendos of full-throated vocalized passion. It is an intoxicating, uplifting combination from a unique stylist leading a marvellously empathetic band.
Unlike its predecessor, which closed with a reading of "Can't Help Falling In Love," the Tin Pan Alley retread of eighteenth century composer Jean-Paul-Égide Martini's "Plaisir D'Amour," Isabela
is all original. It is a five-part suite, composed by Tzur in the form of a raga, a tradition he has studied in depth. What distinguishes Tzur's embrace of raga from practically all other jazz explorations is that he uses its structure without referring to the styles of South Asian raga masters such as, for example, Ali Akbar Khan or Ravi Shankar. There are occasional faint traces of Levantine and North American folk musics to be heard, but none whatsoever of Hindustani music, classical or folk. This is jazz, not world jazz. One Hindustani tradition does apply however, that of differentiating between "morning" and "evening" ragas. Isabela
is definitely a morning raga: the sun is coming up and it is going to be a glorious day. Isabela
is barely over thirty-five minutes long. In an age of digitally bloated playing times that is something else for which Tzur is to be congratulated. The album is a perfect little masterpiece. So why only 4 stars? Because something needs to be kept in reserve for subsequent albums, in the expectation that things are going to get even better.
Postscript. If you have yet to hear Tzur's "Can't Help Falling In Love," from Here Be Dragons
, the YouTube below is nigh on essential listening.
Invocation; Noam; The Lion Turtle; Isabela; Love Song For The Rainy Season.