Lost Brother
Hopscotch Records HOP 33

LOST BROTHER seems to be a misnomer, at least if it’s supposed to apply to any of the performers on this trio CD. For if any one of Chicago drummer Hamid Drake and New Yorkers, reedist Assif Tsahar and multi-instrumentalist Cooper-Moore, was ever a “lost brother” he’s certainly found himself as evidenced by this CD. Furthermore so collaborative is their improvising here that you’d think that the three are reuniting musical siblings.

In truth the Israeli-born Tsahar, Louisiana-born Drake and the Virginia-born Cooper-Moore met and first played together as adults. All have extensive recording histories – especially Drake, who seems to have played with nearly every musician from A (Sardinian guitarist Paolo Angeli) to Z (Chicago percussionist Michael Zerang) – and each of the other two has recorded in duo with Tsahar. But this is the three players’ first trio session, with the nine instant compositions giving each enough space in which to express himself. Each is proficient on more than one instrument. Tsahar plays both tenor saxophone and bass clarinet; Drake drums, tablas and frame drums, and Cooper-Moore ashimba, twanger and diddley-bow.

It’s the last who sets the tone for many of the tracks, for the unique timbres of his home-made and Africanized instruments add polyrhythmic lilts to his output. With the twanger for instance, it often sounds as if he’s playing rockabilly guitar and backbeat percussion simultaneously. Then on “The Coming of the Ship”, he wields the one-string diddley bow with the dexterity of a jazz or classical bassist and manages to pull as many tones out of it as those folks would from their carefully tempered four strings.

This piece features raspy tenor sax obbligatos from Tsahar, who alternates among road house-like slurs, watery reed squeaks and glottal tongue stretching – and does so whenever he solos here. Each style fits the particular mood. For instance, the reedist blares ratcheting lines on “Breaking the Water” that eventually work into double counterpoint with Cooper-Moore’s twanger. Somehow at this point though, Cooper-Moore processes his contraption so that its pulsations resemble both rubberized tones and electronic impulses.

Drake’s traps set the backbeat effortlessly that underlines the rhythm on this track and others, but just as easily he can trade the bounces and rebounds of his regular kit for tablas on “Dugong the Sea Cow” or frame drum on “Confessions”. On the former Cooper-Moore’s ashima joins with Drake’s pulsations for a double shot of percussion. As the palm slaps multiply and adapt complementary vibrations, Tsahar’s robust bass clarinet tone thins and becomes more atonal. On the later tune, the reedy authority of the bloated licorice stick isn’t challenged as the polyrhythmic ratchets from the percussionists showcase these surging reed lines.

Some of the song titles appear to relate to Africans’ experience in the middle passage during slavery time, which gives additional significance to the mix of contemporary and primitive instruments. Yet whether you view LOST BROTHER as an allegorical or practical application of improvisationary techniques, it remains an outstanding CD.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Breaking the Water 2. A Falling Leaf 3. Departure 4. Dugong the Sea Cow 5. Seeking the Punto Fijo 6. Confessions 7. The Coming of the Ship 8. The Shepherd 9. Goin’ Home

Personnel: Assif Tsahar (tenor saxophone and bass clarinet); Cooper-Moore (ashimba, twanger and diddley-bow); Hamid Drake (drums, tablas and frame drum