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If this set’s title seems to indicate a ferocious affair, think otherwise. Tel Aviv-born, New York-based tenor saxophonist Oded Tzur’s sublime quartet’s first ECM outing is more a talisman for peace than a forecast of doom. On ancient maps, “HIC SVNT DRACONES” was a warning to mariners concerning unchartered waters. But here, it alludes to the unknowns of musical improvisation, particularly when using wide-open minimalist ragas as a basis for group development.
The slowly developing title track, and the even more meditative “20 Years,” are Tzur’s creations, which carefully meld ragas over Petros Klampanis’ kinetic double bass. Pianist Nitai Hershkovits fills musical voids by tastefully balancing complex rhythms and harmonically adventurous notes against the group’s more static moments. Drummer Johnathan Blake, best known for his aggressive stick work with pianist Kenny Barron and saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, tempers his drum beats and cymbal splashes with brushes that color and texturize.
Most impressive of all is the sound emitted from Tzur’s tenor. As the set opens with “Here Be Dragons,” the uninformed listener might think Tzur’s first long tones are coming from an electric guitar being picked with the volume off, then swelling, using a volume pedal. Ambiguity of sound seems a priority for Tzur, whose highly liquid, oft flute-like timbre is likely resultant from 12 years of study with bansuri master Hariprasad Chaurasia.
Just as this set seems to be leaning toward predictability, three miniature pieces stray from any pattern, with each featuring an unaccompanied band member. The first features pianist Hershkovits, the second, bassist Klampanis, with Tzur on the third — all highly individual, all seemingly 100 percent improvisatory, all thoroughly cohesive statements. Tzur closes the album with the Elvis Presley hit “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” a ballad initially played unaccompanied by the saxophonist via Skype in a successful attempt to woo his wife-to-be. — James Rozzi
Featured photo by Justin Bettman.