Oded Tzur ‘Here Be Dragons’ LP/CD (ECM) 5/5

“Here be dragons” is the ECM debut of New York-based, Tel Aviv born tenor saxophonist Oded Tzur. One of the most strikingly original musicians to emerge from Israel’s creative jazz scene in recent years, he leads an outstanding quartet which includes Nitai Hershkovits on piano, Petros Klampanis on double bass, and Johnathan Blake on drums.

Tzur has a very personal sound to his playing which encompasses a patient, reserved feel, and his music is subtle and graceful. His writing, combined with intelligent and intuitive performances from the quartet as a whole, makes for a resoundingly beautiful and meditative album. Inspired by his extensive studies from 2007 onwards with bansuri master Hariprasad Chaurasia, Tzur has mastered the graceful slides of Indian classical music and brought raga’s sense of pitch fluidity and microtonal shading into a jazz context.

A good pointer as to the atmosphere and style of this recording would be Charles Lloyd’s quartet featuring Bobo Stenson on piano. Across their ECM releases, including “Fish out of Water”, “The Call” and “Canto”, to name but a few, there is a patient, contemplative nature that is mirrored here on “Here be dragons”. Another similarity is how Lloyd would always allow his quartet, especially pianist Stenson, to express themselves fully. No rushing, no timeframe, no conditions. And so it is on this recording, with pianist Hershkovits taking much of the limelight with his stunningly sensitive, intense and beautiful playing. Then there is Tzur’s own playing style, which in itself is reminiscent of Charles Lloyd at times, Tzur sharing similarities with Lloyd’s enigmatic and characterful style.

The ragas deployed in the pieces “Here be dragons”, “20 years”, and “The Dream” are of stunning skill and beauty, Tzur’s creations being the highlight of the whole album. The composer and his band have a wonderful ability to tell a story within the music they are making. It’s as if they are sharing their journey with the listener. One feels involved, a part of what is happening. It is, of course, the musical interaction within the group that makes this happen in such a profound way. Hershkovits, who took over the piano role in Tzur’s group from Shai Maestro, shines throughout the whole session. Greek bassist Klampanis and U.S. drummer Blake also bring their own creative empathy, making for a unified, spellbinding performance from this wonderfully sublime and expressive quartet.

Mike Gates