Even when tenor saxophonist Oded Tzur is barely making a sound with his horn, he’s moving. On stage, his tone may be serene and still, yet he continues to undulate, as if his quartet’s rapport is generating electricity that courses through his musculature.
That juxtaposition feels analogous to the gulf between Tzur’s gorgeous ECM debut, 2020’s Here Be Dragons, and this year’s Isabela. The former album barely rose above a murmur, but now we know that more dynamic forces were just beneath the surface—which speaks to the infinitude of raga, a major influence on Tzur’s approach.
Here Be Dragons sighs; Isabela proclaims. That’s clear from the opening track, “Invocation,” where Tzur’s saxophoning leaps into the stratosphere. Isabela features the same quartet as its predecessor, including pianist Nitai Hershkovits, bassist Petros Klampanis, and drummer Johnathan Blake, who play just as tenderly and exquisitely here. But while Dragons evoked a drift through the cosmos, Isabela evokes a planet taking shape. “Noam” begins with a Dragons-style hover but then gets to work, accumulating matter and molding itself to Blake’s insistent brushwork. From the aching title track pours an ocean of longing. And from the jocund “Love Song for the Rainy Season” grows aural greenery.
This marvelous album shows that Tzur’s art was never confined by Here Be Dragons’ aesthetic: It’s a self-sustaining, nurturing space all its own. Isabela establishes the blueprint of his world, proving that virtually anything’s possible therein.