Peter Kowald, Hamid Drake & Assif Tsahar | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Peter Kowald, Hamid Drake & Assif Tsahar


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In 1969, pioneering free-jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler named an album Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe, and today bassist Peter Kowald, percussionist Hamid Drake, and reedist Assif Tsahar practice what he preached: their first tour was in Tsahar's native Israel this February, and the sight of a German, a Muslim, and a Jew onstage together, improvising with cathartic intensity, drew a deeply emotional response from the locals. The players are in tune with Ayler's music as well: Tsahar melts notes into fluid streams and ventures into the tenor saxophone's highest registers, echoing Ayler's own sound. And Kowald worked with Ayler's transatlantic counterpart, Peter Brotzmann, at the dawn of European free jazz; for the forthcoming Open Systems (Marge), on which this trio is joined by trumpeter Hugh Ragin, he composed an homage to Ayler called "Fathers & Mothers." The album's sole cover, of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman," not only pays tribute to another trailblazer but serves as a reminder that Drake played frequently with one of Coleman's comrades, trumpeter Don Cherry, between 1978 and Cherry's death in 1995. But though Drake, Kowald, and Tsahar have learned their forefathers' tongues, they each speak a highly individual dialect. Kowald is just as much at home plucking a propulsive walking line as he is wrenching a knotted out-of-tempo figure from his bass, and when he pairs resonant bowed drones with his own guttural throat singing, there's no mistaking him for anyone else. Tsahar applies his gruff tone to cascading phrases equally informed by the blues and the Middle Eastern pop he heard growing up in Tel Aviv. And Drake doesn't merely wander among the myriad drumming styles he's mastered; he can be supportive or confrontational, forcing his partners to stretch by presenting them with unfamiliar beats--I've heard him challenge Brotzmann with reggae rhythms, and during only his second encounter with Tsahar (at HotHouse last September) he steered the saxist into a screaming rock 'n' roll blowout by sticking stubbornly to a hard backbeat. These concerts are the trio's first in North America. Thursday, September 20, and Friday, September 21, 9:30 PM, Velvet Lounge, 21281/2 S. Indiana; 312-791-9050.

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