Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Zoh Amba - O, Sun (Tzadik Records, 2022)

Zoh Amba is a young tenor saxophone player who, according to one bio, practiced by playing in the forest of her native Tennessee before moving off to study at conservatories. She has a genuine and personal tone to her instrument, and creates a very successful album in the company of Micah Thomas on piano, Thomas Morgan on bass and Joey Baron on drums. "Hymn To The Divine Mother" opens the album with a weighted and elegiac tone from the saxophonist along side bass and drums with a late entry from the piano. Light and delicate piano plays off against patient saxophone while clouds of firefly like cymbal taps illuminate the scene. Amba's saxophone has a lighter feel on "O, Sun" where she develops a jaunty theme along side light percussion and nimble bass playing. There is a lengthy section of melodic improvisation between the rhythm section, with some spirited playing that is joined by the leader at the end to reset the piece's theme. A deeper, more raw saxophone tone is at the heart of "Northern Path," joined by darker and fuller sounding piano to lay the groundwork for a taut free improvisation where everyone pitches in. Morgan's bass holds things together and Amba's tenor saxophone shows the influence of her mentor David Murray, leading a vital performance unflinchingly forward. "Gardener" is a lower flame ballad featuring tenor saxophone and brushed percussion framed by gentle bass and piano. Amba's tenor tone floats, but is tinged with a sense of somber regret, aided with some beautiful bass playing. John Zorn joins the group on alto saxophone on "Holy Din," and this is just what they create, playing in a free and excited manner as the drums rumble and the urgent piano and bass fill out the sound. The group's improvisation has fantastic energy, reaching escape velocity with the saxophonists ranging from long scouring tones to rapid fire bursts of notes, and this is a true highlight of the album. "Satya," a lengthy duo piece for Amba and pianist Micah Thomas ends the album, taking the time for the sweet and sour tone of the saxophone and probing piano to build into a more strident and fleet performance. Brief unaccompanied sections for each musician, not quite trading phrases as ending each others sentences occurs, then dynamically downshifting to a soft focus to gracefully end the track. O, Sun - amazon.com

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