Home » Artists » Here Be Dragons

Oded Tzur: Bio

Described by Downbeat Magazine as "A Volcano on the Ocean Floor", Oded Tzur's flair for mystery and narrative captivates audiences worldwide. Based in New York, the saxophonist's work draws influence from the art of storytelling and explores relationships between ancient and modern musical traditions. His records have earned his band the title "The Coltrane Quartet of the 21st Century", and won extraordinary critical acclaim in Europe, South Africa, Japan, South America, Russia and the US. Tzur's unique language of improvisation takes the listener on a journey many describe as "musical storytelling", and evokes deep contrasts between silent passages and dramatic crescendos.

Coming from the Tel Aviv jazz scene of the 2000's, Oded Tzur's background consisted of rigorous training in a number of musical styles. His curiosity for improvised music led him to discover the ancient art of Indian classical music, which had set him on the path to become what Downbeat Magazine later called "an explorer of the microtonal".

In order to pursue the rare undertaking of playing Indian music, a style heavily based on microtonality, on a western instrument such as the saxophone, Tzur embarked on a decade-long research to construct a new saxophone technique - A Middle Path - as it was later named. The technique enables the saxophone to slide between the notes and highlight specific microtones, and departures from traditional saxophone playing so distinctly that the Indian grandmaster Hariprasad Chaurasia once summed it up by saying: "If a curtain were to be drawn in front of him, no one could tell which instrument was being played".

In 2007 Tzur became the first saxophonist to learn from the legendary Indian flutist. Chaurasia's elegant phrasing, spiritual depth and rhythmic mastery have had a profound influence on the saxophonist's music. The work process consisted of countless sessions in which Chaurasia would play a melody on the Bansuri – the Indian flute – and Tzur would then have to translate it onto the saxophone. Following the flutist's intricate style has refined Tzur's technique to the point where it started attracting attention from the international saxophone community.

"Tzur is the first saxophonist I've heard to do what I have long thought was possible, but have been unable to successfully achieve myself: that is to bring the science and artistry of saxophone playing to produce the rounded, beautiful and expressive slides of Indian music" – Sandy Evans

Saxophonists from Sydney to San Fransisco have been learning about Tzur's technique and its possible implications. He was also invited to lecture on the subject at a number of key institutions, such as Trinity College of Music, London, the Copenhagen Conservatory, the Amsterdam Conservatory and more. "For a subject that started as a solitary practice and was deemed impossible at first, it's humbling to see the attention and interest the technique has received during the past few years", says the saxophonist.

In 2011, Tzur moved to New York and established the Oded Tzur Quartet. This step marked a shift in the scope of his work as a composer: sliding not only between the notes of the saxophone, but also between the melodic universes of Indian classical music and jazz.

Since its creation, the quartet has toured around the world, presenting audiences with its captivating language of improvised music. Its three albums, Like a Great River, Translator's Note (Enja Records 2015 & 2017) and Here Be Dragons (ECM Records 2020) were released to extraordinary critical acclaim and established Tzur as a singular voice in today's jazz scene.

1 Here Be Dragons  
2 To Hold Your Hand  
3 20 Years  
4 Miniature 1  
5 Miniature 2  
6 Miniature 3  
7 The Dream  
8 Can't Help Falling In Love  

Here Be Dragons is the ECM debut of New York based, Tel Aviv born tenor saxophonist Oded Tzur, one of the most strikingly original musicians to have emerged from Israeli's creative jazz scene in recent years, and the leader of an outstanding group. 

Oded Tzur has found a new and personal sound for the tenor saxophone. Inspired by his extensive studies from 2007 onward with bansuri master Hariprasad Chaurasia, he has mastered the graceful slides of Indian classical music and brought raga's sense of pitch fluidity and microtonal shading into a jazz context. His pieces elegantly explore and unfold their melodic and atmospheric implications in a context of subtle group interaction. Structurally, each of Tzur's compositions on Here Be Dragons sets out to develop a "miniature raga" over a moving bass, juxtaposing two musical concepts. Oded: "The dialogue between these dimensions takes us wherever it takes us." The ragas deployed in the pieces "Here Be Dragons", "20 Years" and "The Dream" are of Oded's creation, while "To Hold Your Hand" uses an Indian scale called Charukesi and operates on similar principles. He stresses, however, that "raga is, for me, a universal concept. I hear its connection to synagogue prayers, or to the blues – a marvellous creation – and to music all around the world." Ancient and modern traditions are referenced in Oded's work, including traditions of storytelling. "If music has the ability to tell stories," suggested All About Jazz, "saxophonist Oded Tzur proves himself one of the jazz world's premier storytellers." Tzur's concept is also broad enough to embrace some unexpected song choices, and the album concludes with a tender interpretation of "Can't Help Falling In Love", made famous by Elvis Presley. 

Crossover Media Projects with: Oded Tzur