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

Ken Waxman, Jazz Weekly

Stripped down to music's internal skeleton, real-time improvisation is so basic that it can often be as chancy as trying to reconstruct a human being from his bone structure alone. But when it does work, the results are as spectacular as the accomplishments of anthropologists who use the properties of a few bone shards to discover nearly everything about a vanished personage.

Master drummer Hamid Drake and reedman Assif Tsahar pull out their symbolic pick axes and labor in the improv trenches at 2001's Vision Festival in New York on SOUL BODIES. During the course of three long pieces they firmly and distinctively bring into being living, breathing bodies of outstanding improvisations. If they miscalculate in any way, it's in not spending enough time solidifying the souls to enlighten these improv creatures.

Israeli-born, Tsahar, 32, has played with such young and older sonic investigators as bassists William Parker drummers Susie Ibarra and Rashied Ali since he arrived in the New York at 21. Fourteen years older, Chicago's Drake has had a decades-long association with tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson, and over the years has also anchored bands with such other powerful saxophonists as Ken Vandermark and Peter Brötzmann. Kowald, 57, was Brötzmann's associate as a European first generation free jazzer in the 1960s. Since then he has worked with almost every major Continental and American explorer and recently recorded an album with Tsahar and Ali. Known for membership in bands lead by reedmen David Murray and Roscoe Mitchell, Ragin, 50, is acting director of Jazz Studies at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio, when he's not collaborating with other forward-looking musicians.

See the Drake-Tsahar partnership as a musical marriage made in heaven on the first CD and you won't be far wrong. Essentially what you hear is free jazz at its freest. The idea is to play until you can't play any more ... and than play some more. That doesn't mean that anything is perfunctory or histrionic either. Between them, the two have too many years of study and experience for that.

While the booklet notes talk about the musicians' ability to master hemiola -- playing three against two patterns -- and melodic and harmonic excursions on dominant and subordinate chords, the result isn't technical in the least. On tenor, Tsahar produces a compendium of energetic effects, from protracted sheets of sound, sardonic, sonic blasts, repeated freak notes and slashing tone runs whose closest antecedent was Albert Ayler's freaky circus band concept. He will sometimes construct whole, protracted sections in altissimo and other times produce enough multiphonics to resemble a brace of saxophones. Everything here takes place at full throttle, with forward motion sometimes giving way to miniscule melodies that resemble Sonny Rollins' "East Broadway Run Down" or even "Listen to the Mockingbird".

Not to be outdone by the reed and metal twists and turns, Drake keeps up a constant percussive barrage, encompassing a sufficient number of drum rolls, cymbal shimmers and bass drum accents. When he solos, the beat never lets up and there are times he too suggests the strength and power of more than one percussionist. Yet unlike showy rock drummers, he never becomes overbearing, and his segueways mesh perfectly with the sax work.

"Clay Dancers", featuring Drake accompanying himself on frame drum and vocals and Tsahar on woody bass clarinet, is the only soul respite from the sheer physicality of the body music of the other tracks. Producing lingual tones that appropriately resemble both a muezzin's call to prayer and a cantor's incantation during a synagogue service, Drake's percussive, accentuated chanting and Tsahar's indivisible runs from one end of his curved horn to the other combine to create a whirling Dervish-like near-religious ecstasy. All music has similar roots, and the two prove it here.

Perhaps on a promised Vol. 2 of this session, the more peaceful side of the music will be elaborated as well. No matter, as it stands now the only drawback of this disc is that Drake's first name is misspelled as "Hammid" on the front cover.

The CD offer exceptional showcases for two younger improvisers already on their way to be recognized as major stylists.