Following what’s become standard operating procedure among the more quixotic free-jazz musicians, tenor saxophonist/bass clarinetist Assif Tsahar bypasses the hassle of hustling a record deal by putting out his own stuff. Tsahar’s Hopscotch label recently released a batch of three discs that present his work, both as a jazz-based player and as a composer of experimental chamber works.
The best of the three is—not coincidentally—the most consistently jazzlike. Lost Brother teams Tsahar with an All-World rhythm section of drummer Hamid Drake and multi-instrumentalist Cooper-Moore. Drake’s rep as one of jazz’s most complete percussionists won’t take a hit here; he’s terrific, giving Tsahar propulsive rhythmic backing and interacting on the highest possible level. On his presumably homemade instruments (diddley-bow, twanger and ashimba), consummate improviser Cooper-Moore exaggerates rubbery glissandi and traditional walking bass, tweaks out melodic percussion and injects folksy humor into what is otherwise deadly serious business. Tsahar shows how he’s evolved over the past several years from a pale reflection of a young David Murray into an interesting player in his own right. He still leans on the whinnying, squealing attack favored by latter-day Aylerists, but he’s more often inclined to display the chops of a conventionally skilled saxophonist. While his technical hyperactivity and forays into Honk ’n’ Squeakville sometimes come off as glib, he can also construct dynamically shaded improvisations of considerable beauty.
Solitude has Tsahar joined by percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani and the KJLA String Quartet. The music is open-structured, with lots of droning, microtonal manipulation, static rhythmic content, extended technique and general dissonance. Tsahar shows a nice grasp of form in both his solos and the way he guides the amorphous collective. Fragments, by Tsahar’s New York Underground Orchestra, is new-music-y along the same lines as Solitude, the primary difference being the expanded instrumentation (lots of strings and flutes, few brass and no saxes) and a spotlight on improvisers besides Tsahar, who doesn’t play but rather conducts the ménage. The music is occasionally quite lovely. In particular, “Fifth,” featuring violinist Jana Andevska, and “Seventh,” featuring violist Lev Zhurbin, are nicely done. As a composer, Tsahar’s infatuation with droning wears thin after awhile. All in all, however, his manner of conjoining various elements works well.
Tsahar’s a long way from being an earth-shaking original, yet he’s a deeply musical artist whose work merits attention.