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Assif Tsahar & Hamid Drake - Soul Bodies, vol.2

Robert Iannapollo, Cadence Magazine

Hamid Drake is among the most adventurous and open of the current crop of drummer/percussionists. He’s also among the most versatile, as handy with a trap set as he is with hand drums. He’s a rarity among Jazz/improvised music drummers in that he can effortlessly slip into a convincing reggae/dub rhythm or a hard driving funk backbeat from an intense high-energy barrage. And with his energy, technique and imagination, he can be the ideal duet partner.
Soul Bodies, Vol. 2 is the second set of duets recorded between Drake and reed player Assif Tsahar. Israeli saxophonist Tsahar has been a presence on the New York scene for over ten years now. Soul Bodies, Vol. 1 covered a galvanic set the two engaged in at the 2001 Vision Festival. This follow-up disc documents a set from The Glenn Miller Café in Stockholm the following year. On this set Tsahar sticks to tenor saxophone whereas he also played bass clarinet on the previous volume.
These two players are clearly on the same wavelength. The compositional credits list both as co-authors (except for “Mother And Father,” listed as a Peter Kowald composition, and the brief encore of “St. Thomas”) which would indicate that these are free improvisations. Yet frequently the improvisations demonstrate a compositional architecture. There’s a remarkable stops-on-a-dime ending to “Praying Mantis” that’s executed with a series of tumbling phrases played in unison by Drake and Tsahar. “Warriors Of Stillness” opens with Tsahar playing a bluesy line, that curiously has echoes of Bob Doroughs’ early ‘60s soul hit “Comin’ Home Baby” and Drake accompanies with an almost bossa style rhythm. Tsahar keeps referring to the line throughout the piece’s remarkable 17 minutes. The improvisation goes far afield and Tsahar and Drake keep building the piece in waves. It’s a solidly sustained piece of work. The Kowald composition has echoes of Ayler’s folk melody style and the two invest this baleful melody with a powerful emotional core.
Tsahar sounds beautiful on this set. His tenor sound has become big and powerful. He seems to have incorporated a Rollins-esque swagger with the passion of a late-Coltrane and the fire of Ayler. Yet Tsahar has gone well beyond the lessons he’s learned from these masters. The fact that he can hold his own with such a powerful drummer as Drake attests to his inventiveness. And Drake does everything one expects from a musician who’s considered among the best percussionists in improvised music. He not only leads and responds but he builds a dense polyrhythmic base that gives Tsahar plenty of room to move. They suit each other well and this session with its satisfying improvisatory give and take is well worth hearing.