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Surprises abound through elegant compositions on Oded Tzur - Here Be Dragons / The Aquarian

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Here Be Dragons (ECM Records) by Oded Tzur, the Israeli tenor sax man now living and working in New York City, takes its inspiration from ancient times when the Dutch Society of Cartography commissioned Florentine artist Filippo Brunelleschi to board a pirate ship in 1439 to seek out dragons. They found no such creatures but got drunk on rum and managed to survive a monster wave or two. Tzur heard these tales as a kid and was always fascinated by them. He also listened to a lot of ragas growing up thanks to his parents. The mathematical extremes of the classical music of India has now entered his lexicon as a sincere purveyor of post-bop fusion. No, not jazz-rock fusion, but folkloric jazz-classical fusion, rooted in the mysterious ambiance of India. It comes out as a haunted soundtrack to a horror movie that doesn't exist. He calls these tracks "miniature ragas." Bassist Petros Klampanis, from Greece, plays in an ornate throbbing style that gives even more life to Tzur's compositions. He's like a heart-beat. Israeli pianist Nitai Hershkovits, also now living and working in New York City, is the perfect foil for these inventions. Philadelphia drummer John Blake rounds out this most unique quartet with a solid dose of swing to keep everything grounded. (Blake previously played with Ravi Coltrane.) Surprises abound. Tzur's elegant compositions-raga-jazz?-draw the listener in to its web of intrigue. So what one cover would an Israeli-Greek-American fusion quartet perform on its debut? The album ends with Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling In Love" from the 1961 movie Blue Hawaii.

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