The first truly memorable release of 2020 comes out on ECM tomorrow when Here Be Dragons drops. The third album by Israeli saxophonist Oded Tzur and his quartet, it is a melodic and sometimes transcendent album, contemplative with a shimmering beauty that belies the intensity that lies just below the surface.
Oded’s international group features fellow Israeli Nitai Hershkovits on piano, Greek bassist and long-time collaborator Petros Klampanis and US drummer Johnathan Blake. Hershkovits, who took over the piano role in Tzur’s group from Shai Maestro, first came to wider attention as a member of bassist Avishai Cohen’s groups. Japan’s CD Journal called them “a Coltrane Quartet for the 21st century.” High praise indeed.
One of the things I found most interesting about Here Be Dragons is Oded’s use of the Indian musical form of the raga as the base for many of his compositions. He has said his goal was to develop a “miniature raga” over a moving bass, juxtaposing two musical concepts from the East and West. We talk at length about the raga, which he compares to the Blues in spirit and structure. Be sure to listen closely.
He learned much about Indian music from the legendary Indian flutist Chaurasia, who taught him to literally to play between the notes, moving and sliding on the saxophone to capture the spirt and mystery of the raga. Oded has his own term for this type of playing, “the Middle Path.”
Podcast 725 is my conversation with Oded Tzur, one of the most enjoyable this year. Musical selections from Here Be Dragons include the title track, “Miniature 1” and believe it or not, “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.”