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

Jason Bivins, Cadence Magazine

Waxed at last year's Vision Festival, the meeting of Drake and Tsahar is an unvarnished encounter between two heavies, Drake, long known to Chicagoans and more recently to the world as a poly-idiomatic percussion master, and Tsahar, long-time associate of William Parker, arguably Drake's most sympathetic bassist, hit it off like old chums.
In the past, I've been slow to warm to Tsahar's playing. He has at times, to my ears at least, relied too heavily on energy music clichés of a sort, blowing hard and loud and fast and furious in a way that seems increasingly one-dimensional these days. But here he sounds like a different player altogether, stronger, more subtle, and more flexible by far.
True, almost anyone could be lifted by the stellar kit work of Drake, but Tsahar plays with real authority here: on the long "Soul Bodies", he flutters and coos here, barks and brays there, spinning out a careful melody with as much focus as he brings to his shrieking multiphonics.
And Drake plays with dizzying euphoria. It's just impossible not to move to what this man can lay down.
Together, they create music that is much more firmly and evidently rooted in Jazz than is much of today's most compelling free improvisation. But regardless of all the labels we might get hung up on, it sounds just dandy. They work from very basic and elemental materials on the title track, building and building for nearly a half hour.
"Clay Dancers" features an increasingly common element of Drake's playing: his use of frame drum and Sufi singing/chanting. This track has all the elements of repose lacking in the fire of the first track, and it's quite beautiful (with graceful accompaniment from Tsahar's bass clarinet, which spools out complementary folk lines).
By the time we are midway through "Hearts Mind", the duo has really found itself, setting out into more adventurous harmonic and rhythmic territory and creating something quite memorable.
This disc documents one of those wonderful examples of how occasional meetings between great improvisers can result in truly lasting music.