Assif Tsahar & Hamid Drake - Soul Bodies, vol.1

Tom Perchard, The Wire

This live recording was made a New York City's Vision Festival, the series co. founded several years ago by Israeli-born reeds player Assif Tsahar. Still in his early thirties, Tsahar has played with William Parker, Susie Ibarra and Rashied Ali, among others, while Hamid Drake is a heavily in demand drummer in avant circles.

Three long pieces make up this recording. For the few minutes, Tsahar´s unaccompanied tenor sax pokes at Evan Parker's bulging circular figurations, but these are quickly subsumed under a more dominant late-Coltrane influence, which, for the rest of the performance, the saxophonist struggles to assimilate. Tsahar is a long way from arriving at any really personal approach, and it sounds like partner Drake's integral identity only makes him more uncomfortable. Drake's mastery is complete, and sometimes he can't help but swallow op Tsahar.

Bursting into the first track with a New Orleans groove as powerful as it is unexpected, the drummer commands the proceedings, throwing rhythm to the saxophonist from second to second and moulding the long-term progression of each piece.

Drake may find himself identified as a "free" player of some sort, but the grooves he likes to set up are as "in the pocket" as you like. Free jazz may have always looked backwards as well as forward - may players of the 1960s saw the return to collective improvisation as an evocation of early jazz practice - but where the music once borrowed techniques, now players like Drake borrow styles. The drummer's "freedom" might lie in his ability to explicitly contextualise his own music making, rather than in any narrow technical or stylistic approach.
Tsahar´s freedom too: while Drake's frame drum and muezzin calls reach across to the Middle East in "Clay Dancers", so the Middle Easterner's bass clarinet heads back to black America.