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Assif Tsahar & Alvin Fielder
Houston TX, 24 January 2001

As though to relieve the doldrums of January and after-holiday blues, Assif Tsahar and Alvin Fielder miraculously appeared for a one-night stand in Houston at the downtown coffeehouse and chess haven No Tsu Oh. This converted commercial building now attracts a new bohemian crowd anxious to dabble into alternate forms of art and culture, including creative improvised music such as was presented by this duo.

Tsahar began the first set on tenor with an exhibition of strength that was to last him the entire evening. Using circular breathing while beating out swirling streams of electricity, he immediately dove headlong into furious playing that so aptly characterizes his approach. An avalanche of sound erupted from his horn seconds into the performance as he rapidly fluttered the keys. Tsahar is not simply a stand-up-and-blow type of player; although he starts and stays strong, he directs the mass energy bursting from his horn into logical progressions of layered sound much the way Sonny Rollins does. The ideas keep rolling off his tongue and are splattered against an audience attempting to absorb the clamorous cacophony-turned-symphony that is engulfing them. With neck muscles bulging, Tsahar carries his audience along in the rushing current through turbulent rapids and tumultuous eddies that can be enervating, leaving everyone drained from the experience except Tsahar.

Fielder is an articulate drummer and an amazing historian of the music. Before the show, he enumerated a lengthy list of drummers whom he respects, including the legendary Pittsburgh drummer Joe Harris. From that list, he culled out one name that stood out for him—percussionist extraordinaire Max Roach. While Tsahar was leading his crusade, Fielder began by paying respect and homage to Roach with a very identifiable salute to the influential pioneer. In seemingly impossible contrast, Fielder was able to play a drum melody line behind the blowing of Tsahar. He often reverted to a common theme, such as a four-note pattern that acted as glue in holding the performance together. He then would become fully energized, using crossed hands while pounding out lightning-fast strokes of high rhythm that were consistent with the kinetic direction of Tsahar.

During both sets, Tsahar switched to the bass clarinet in what became a tranquil pool amid the rushing water. The low, mellow tone and smoother sound signaled an obvious drop in energy but not in creativity. His tone was beautiful and resonated throughout the room while Fielder molded his own creative music. Fielder evoked strong images with an Afro-Cuban Nanigo pattern and then spontaneously paid another tribute—this time to his long-time friend, the recently deceased super-drummer Vernel Fourier. The tribute was eminently recognizable and was quite fitting as Tsahar took the bass clarinet into a higher register with increasing power. Fielder also used mallets quite effectively in supporting the cries from Tsahar. As a drummer, he swings while still being able to take the music out as far as it can go.

For a finale, Tsahar invited trombone player and curator David Dove to join them. It turned into a wild outburst with Dove matching the power of Tsahar while each jabbed and prodded the other to reach new heights. Dove blows with fury of his own, showing the influence of Albert Mangelsdorff in his playing. The twelve-minute contest was fully charged, allowing both horn players to stretch out with high-tension collective improvising.

After the last set, Fielder held a discussion clinic for the admiring few that stayed to listen. He talked about the early rhythm and blues bands that roamed Texas, of the piano players whom he considers to be true geniuses (Muhal Richard Abrams headed this list), of his early days with the AACM and as the original drummer with the Roscoe Mitchell Art Ensemble, of Monk and his ability to take threads of 19th century classical themes and turn them into jazz classics, of his recent appearance at the Tampere, Finland Jazz Festival with Kidd Jordan and Joel Futterman, and of numerous other historical tidbits on the music as seen through his eyes over the years. He also admitted that this was the first time he and Tsahar had ever played together. No one wanted to accept that, given the true telepathic current that flowed between them. He even explained how seasoned veterans are able to do just that. He got into a technical discussion on what Tsahar was doing and how it fit into a framework that allowed him to respond.

This after-set seminar was a priceless additive to an already heady musical experience. Tsahar and Fielder clicked on this night, making music with sustained and sustaining power. It cured the January blues all right.