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Oded Tzur

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New York City-based saxophonist, composer, and bandleader Oded Tzur's warm, yearning, resonant tone explores fundamental connections between different musical traditions including modal jazz, Indian classical, and other microtonal music heritages. His compositions reflect a narrative sensibility influenced by various storytelling cultures as they explore hidden and visible relationships between ancient and modern musical traditions. Tzur developed "The Middle Path," a saxophone technique that extends the instrument's microtonal capacity. His first two leader albums, 2015's Like a Great River and Translator's Note, were issued through Enja Records' Yellowbird imprint in 2015 and 2017, respectively. They earned his music the descriptor "a new type of Swing," and garnered widespread critical acclaim. Here Be Dragons, his 2020 ECM leader debut, showcased a his consummate ability to meld Eastern and Western traditions. For 2022's Isabela, Tzur self-fashioned a jazz raga in a suite-like sequence of quiet meditations and powerful exclamations. Tzur was born in Israel in 1984. Music was part of his formal education from the beginning. Interestingly enough, he started with jazz, and was later a student of the classical saxophone master Professor Gersh Geller. Tzur underwent rigorous musical training in various styles. His curiosity about improvisation led him to discover the ancient art of Indian classical music, and it became a focal point in his work. In order to engage in the pursuit of playing Indian music -- which is heavily based on microtonality -- on a western instrument such as the saxophone, Tzur embarked on a decade-long research project and invented a new saxophone technique: "A Middle Path", as it was later named. His technique enabled the saxophone to slide between notes and highlight specific microtones. Admitted in 2007 to the Indian music program at the Rotterdam World Music Academy, Tzur continued delving into Hindustani classical music phrasing, rhythm, and tones under the tutelage of Bansuri flute maestro Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. He was the first saxophonist to do so, and Chaurasia had a profound influence on his work. Their process consisted of countless sessions in which Chaurasia would play a melody on the Bansuri, and Tzur would translate it onto the saxophone. Following the flutist's intricate style refined Tzur's technique; his playing began to attract attention from the international saxophonist community. He demarcated a sonic terrain so distinct from traditional saxophone that Chaurasia described it as, "If a curtain were to be drawn in front of him, no one could tell which instrument was being played." In 2011, Tzur moved to New York City and established the Oded Tzur Quartet with bassist Petros Klampanis, drummer Ziv Ravitz, and pianist Shai Maestro. The group's formation marked a large shift in the scope of Tzur's compositions: He began sliding not only between the notes of the saxophone, but also between the harmonic universes of Indian classical music and jazz, which he embraced and bridged. The quartet began playing not only in New York, but also in Israel and Europe. Seasoned by bandstand, touring, and soundtrack work, the quartet was signed to Enja's Yellowbird and issued their debut offering, Like a Great River, in 2015. Radio France referred to the album as "a discovery" when it featured the set on the open and close of its jazz program. Magazines and journals celebrated its melodic, spiritual beauty, and announced Tzur's entrance to the international jazz scene as a musical storyteller. Touring the globe, the Oded Tzur Quartet gained a following in Israel, France, and Russia. In 2017, they delivered their follow-up, Translator's Note. This set was a striking hybrid of American jazz, Middle and Far Eastern modalities, rhythmic and harmonic concepts, and Tzur's incorporation of microtones. Japan's influential CD Journal was so impressed by the maturity of the group, they described them as "The Coltrane Quartet of the 21st Century." The group hit the road to perform material from both albums. They played shows in Israel, France, Belgium, England, Italy, and the Netherlands. During this time, Tzur introduced a new version of his quartet with Klampanis that also included pianist Nitai Hershkovits and drummer Johnathan Blake. Tzur signed with ECM. In June of 2019, this group entered the famed Auditorio Stelio Molo in Lugano, Switzerland with producer Manfred Eicher and recording engineer Stefano Amerio. ECM released Here Be Dragons in February 2020. Tzur released Isabela in May 2022. In a suite-like sequence of quiet meditations and powerful exclamations, his compositional approach blended raga and jazz in a way where the saxophonist was neither borrowing nor imitating musical idioms from elsewhere, but applying a comprehensive music-philosophical concept that resonated universally.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo
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