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Tsahar/ Kowald/ Murray - MA

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Artist: Tsahar/ Kowald/ Murray

Album: MA

Label: Hopscotch

Review date: Jul. 16, 2003

Muted Ecstasy

Death is inevitable. A more obvious truism probably does not exist. But when it comes, how many people are actually ready to follow the Reaper’s lead? My guess is, only a fractionary few. Even so, some argue that it’s even harder on the survivors, dealing with the emotional as well as physical vacuity where a loved one once lived. Assif Tsahar certainly knows about loss. He’s one of the many creative musicians still reeling from the death of Peter Kowald. Kowald’s departure was as sudden as they come. Unwinding at fellow bassist and longtime friend William Parker’s house post-gig, a heart attack seized him and stole him away. The wake of his passing sent shockwaves of sadness throughout the global improv community that are still being felt through the media of tributes and remembrances.

MA represents one of Tsahar’s contributions to the legacy of his fallen comrade, as well as cathartic means of seeking respite from the resulting grief. Recorded live at the Fundacio Juan Miro in Barcelona, summer 2002, the event joins his tenor saxophone and bass clarinet with the colossal improvisatory resources of Kowald’s bass and Sunny Murray’s drums. Tsahar has taken hits in the past for his resolute adherence to the ecstatic energy music lineage of past tenor fire-breathers like Ayler and Coltrane. Admittedly his style can border on the nakedly reverential, but there’s an underlying sincerity and passion of purpose that effectively refutes any claim of rote emulation.

The seven tracks here, each designated by a corresponding set of initials and hieroglyph, represent a fully realized meeting of three fertile minds and their respective chosen implements of expression. Rather than commence at full bore, Tsahar opts for cleanly articulated restraint, blowing simple linear streams, etched with emotive tonal pigments. Kowald and Murray are further back in the mix and some of the bassist’s more accelerated figures blur under the opacity of their recorded rendering. There are also moments where the momentum lags and Tsahar does fall back a bit on stock phrasings in places, but for the most part the trio’s formidable vitality and resolve are sustained. Later tracks open up the playing field and spread more emphasis to bass and drums. At one point on “YA”, Kowald’s silver-tongued arco tendrils mesh in tonal proximity with Tsahar’s mewling whisps and gusts. Recurring deluges of full-tilt momentum give way to leavening eddies of comparative contemplation, as on Kowald’s almost inaudible spider scuttle up and down his fingerboard in the opening minutes of “KA”. It’s these beguilingly creative sequences that truly sting with the reality of his mortality.

Further adding to the feeling of persisting bereavement, the disc’s accompanying notes consist of diary entry by Tsahar, written the day he learned of Kowald’s passing. Taken in sum, this disc is certainly some heavy shit, especially given the additional import of its latent connotations. Peter Kowald’s music is now a finite commodity. The man is no longer with us and he is sorely missed.

By Derek Taylor

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