Soul Bodies, Vol. 1
Ayler aylCD-0024

Open Systems
Marge 28

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.

Three weeks previously, Drake and Tsahar were in Paris as guests at a friend’s wedding. Turning the celebration into a busman’s holiday, the two subsequently went into a studio with veteran German bassist Peter Kowald and American trumpeter Hugh Ragin, who were specifically invited to take part, and produced OPEN SYSTEMS. It’s more than 72½ minutes spread among seven compositions that relate as much to hard core energy music of the late 1960s as the former disc does to spirituality.

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.

With additional recruits, the tenor saxophonist and drummer turn more to the song form on OPEN SYSTEMS, but despite the background of a wedding celebration this is no sylvan collection of smooth candlelight-and-wine love songs. Instead the Paris studio is the scene of some of the raunchiest energy music produced since members of the Art Ensemble and tenor man Frank Wright were regular residents of the French capital.

Take the saxman’s “The Lizards in the Maze”, one of four Tsahar compositions elaborated here. Beginning with a powerful Wilbur Ware-type string-punishing intro courtesy of Kowald, the freebop head soon gives way to a selection of solos. Even when he soars at the top of his range, Ragin still properly balances every note. In contrast, the tenorist’s tone sometimes slips into altissimo, but is always made up of staccato-inflected sound particles. Probably reminding Drake of his long-time employer Anderson, the percussionist usually meets Tsahar’s steaming thrusts with protracted tattoos, then follows the duet with a calm but heartfelt solo that starts off heavy on the snares and cymbals, but then turns proper attention to all parts of the kit.

Building from an early Ornette Coleman Quartet type of head, “The Call” offers more of the same, with Drake in his Ed Blackwell role providing a steady rat-tat-tat and Kowald as Charlie Haden providing the rhythmic bottom. On “Lonely Woman” —

a real Coleman line — he authors a solo which has the different strings on his instrument dialoguing with themselves, and that let’s you know that his assumed identity here was just momentary role playing. Channeling Don Cherry, who spent some time in Paris himself, Ragin not only to creates whinnies and smears to follow Tsahar’s lead, but manages to expose a tiny, melodic passage of modulated beauty, built on short, sharp ascending horn bursts. Odd man out with his tenor tone obviously closer to John Coltrane’s or Ayler’s than Coleman’s alto conception, Tsahar spews out a well-nuanced solo, and after time spent chasing the brass man through the stratosphere, elaborates another motif that drags everyone back to the initial theme.

This drawing together seems to be the motif behind Tsahar’s “Dream Weaverts”(sic), dedicated to the newly married couple. Although Ragin, using a sort of funky burr sometimes sounds as if he’s playing Charles Mingus’ “Weird Nightmare” or Ayler’s “The Truth Is Marching In” — and what are the brassman’s views on marriage? — the bowed bass and bass clarinet mirror one another with irregular reverberating vibrations. Despite sections where each horn appears to be heading in a contrasting direction, they pull back to meld together before the end. Is there a wedlock partnership metaphor here somewhere?

Finally, Drake presages the pietistic passages he’d be singing three weeks hence in New York on “Hearts Remembrance”, where his measured Arabic (?) chanting is complimented by reverberating didgeridoo-like vocal sounds from Kowald and Ragin. Manipulating the buzz of the frame drum and adapting the bass clarinet’s natural resonance and some meshed, muted trumpet, the four allude to timeless, primitive music, that by title again suggests the newlyweds, and in sound references the duo CD.

Each of these CDs offer exceptional showcases for two younger improvisers already on their way to be recognized as major stylists. Whether you prefer the duo straight or in a larger, economy side with extra musical ingredients is up to you.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Soul: 1. Introduction 2. Soul Bodies 3. Clay Dancers 4. Heart’s Mind

Personnel: Soul: Assif Tsahar (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet); Hamid Drake (drums, frame drum, vocal)

Track Listing: Open: 1. Lonely Woman 2. The Lizards in the Maze 3. Fathers and Mothers (For Albert Ayler) 4. Hearts Remembrance 5. Standing Motion 6. Dream Weaverts 7. The Call

Personnel: Open: Hugh Ragin (trumpet); Assif Tsahar (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet); Peter Kowald (bass, voice); Hamid Drake (drums, frame drum, voice)