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Oded Tzur: My Prophet

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Oded Tzur: My Prophet
Much like listening to late period John Coltrane or modern-day Charles Lloyd, listening to Oded Tzur is akin to a spiritual experience. The tenor saxophonist's fifth album, My Prophet, is his most affecting yet. Simultaneously corporeal and metaphysical, soulful and cerebral.

Inexplicably, despite having four breathtakingly singular and near-perfect albums out and about already, not to mention wall-to-wall media affirmation, Brooklyn-based, Tel Aviv-born Tzur is still a relatively niche name. At its most passionate, his music lacks populist crash bang wallop. At its most devotional, it is entirely without sentimentality or cheap incense. His back catalogue is not part of the general conversation. But it should be. He released his first album, Like A Great River, in 2015, and its follow-up, Translator's Note, in 2017. Both are on the Yellowbird label. For his third and fourth albums, 2020's Here Be Dragons and 2022's Isabela, Tzur moved to ECM. All his albums have been made as leader of a quartet. On My Prophet there is one change in the lineup from the previous ECM albums. The Brazilian drummer Cyrano Almeida replaces Johnathan Blake, joining double bassist Petros Klampanis and pianist Nitai Hershkovits. Klampanis has been with Tzur since Like A Great River and Hershkovits since Here Be Dragons.

When Tzur began playing, his ambition was to sound like Dexter Gordon. One of his favorite albums is still the Gordon compilation Ballads (Blue Note, 1991). But twenty or so years on, Tzur has created a sound that is unlike that of anyone else in jazz, now or back in the hard-bop night. It can turn in less than a bar from a barely audible whisper to a passionate high-voltage cry. The transition is thrilling, and it is achieved without recourse to melodrama. Tzur blends the fragility of Charles Lloyd at his most wonderstruck with the booting bottom-end abandon of modern-day tenor saxophonists' ancestral bar-walking shamans. His sound, technique and lyricism have been enriched by years of in-depth study of Indian raga and its blend of reverence and ecstasy.

All the qualities listed above have been constants in Tzur's music since his first album. My Prophet adds another dimension. The album was recorded in France in November 2023, a few weeks after Hamas' attack on Israel. After the opening "Epilogue," a thirty-second instrumental "om," the raw anguish one imagines was being felt by the band, most particularly perhaps by Tzur and Hershkovits, pours out—in an interview which can be read here, Tzur agrees that the Quartet is reaching new levels of intensity but ascribes the cause elsewhere. Still fundamentally consonant, like all Tzur's previous music, there are splashes of dissonance and agitation. The penultimate title track, at over eleven minutes the longest on the album, is more settled, with Hershkovits sounding delicately Erik Satie-esque.

All About Jazz gave Isabela a 4 star review (here). The review concluded by saying that the album was "A perfect little masterpiece," before asking "So why only 4 stars?" and answering "Because something needs to be kept in reserve for subsequent albums, in the expectation that things are going to get even better." With My Prophet things have indeed got even better.

Track Listing

Epilogue; Child You; Through a Land Unsown; Renata; My Prophet; Last Bike Ride in Paris.

Personnel

Oded Tzur
saxophone, tenor
Petros Klampanis
bass, acoustic

Album information

Title: My Prophet | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: ECM Records


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