Primitive sounds

Cooper-Moore, Chad Taylor and Assif Tsahar have been playing together for so long that they can play according to their own – and each other’s – moods

Digital Primatives (photo credit: Courtesy)
Digital Primatives
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Besides the technical mastery on display, if there’s one thing that gets an audience going it is when the artists on the stage exude a sense of fun and pure enjoyment from their craft. That is probably why the Digital Primitives trio tends to pack ’em in wherever it plays, even though some of the material they put out there not is exactly of the easy listening, comfortably melodic variety.
The threesome comprises maverick American multiinstrumentalist Cooper-Moore, high-powered compatriot drummer Chad Taylor and Israeli saxophonist bass clarinet player Assif Tsahar. They are, it must be said, something of a disparate bunch – each brings quite different musical baggage to their musical confluence – but the sum of the varying parts flows seamlessly in all the right directions.
The band has toured here several times in the past, always to wildly enthused crowds, and there is no reason to expect anything else when Cooper-Moore, Taylor and Tsahar perform at Tel Aviv’s Levontin 7 club on Sunday at 8 p.m.
The three are coming to Israel on the back of a two week whiz around Europe, with concerts in Norway, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria and Romania. The European stops, as well as the Israeli leg of the circuit, were designed to showcase the latest release by the Digital Primitives, a double-CD effort quirkily entitled Lipsomuch and Soul Searchin’ – which are also names of two of the 19 tracks.
The album comes from Tsahar’s Hopscotch Records and sports the label’s characteristically striking and somewhat hallucinatory artwork, created by Igor Krutogolov – who occasionally earns his crust as a bass player with Tsahar – that is a perfect fit for the sonic content. The CD bears all the hallmarks of a happy-go-lucky affair with the members all putting in their penny’s worth and surfing the crest of the vibes.
“We just do it together,” states Tsahar simply. “Each one of us throws up an idea and that’s what we play.”
It sounds simple enough, but to make that work convincingly and creatively, the individual members have to be not only in possession of the prerequisite instrumental skills, but they all have to be mutually simpatico. It also helps to have some jointly accrued gigging and recording time.
“We have been playing together for so long now that we know each other’s language,” continues Tsahar. “That comes through, especially, when we are on tour. Ideas just spring up and we grab them and see where they take us.”
The trio normally manages two or three tours a year, but Tsahar’s growing familial obligations have limited that lately. “I’ve got a couple of small kids now so I haven’t been able to get away until now,” says the reedman. “It’s great to be back on the road with these guys again.”
“Ol’ Blu,” on the Soul Searchin’ album, has Cooper- Moore and Taylor keeping a steady but understated undulating substratum going while Tsahar spins out his own yarn on bass clarinet, dropping into the nether regions of the instrument’s range to produce something of a Middle Eastern soundscape, while his upper register foray owes more to klezmer sentiments.
The title track of Soul Searchin’ brings the listener right back into Downtown Groovesville. Cooper- Moore sets the scene with a twangy, slightly atonal line before Taylor comes crashing in on his drum set and Tsahar goes off on a careening and sometimes honking saxophone escapade. That is followed by “Spider’s Sap,” which finds Tsahar in a smoky, bluesy mood that evokes the feel of Coleman Hawkins, while his mates keep to the recesses of the sonic ambiance with subtle underpinning. Other cuts have Cooper-Moore sounding like he’s thrashing at the ends of frayed banjo strings, and there are plenty more groovy vibes to be had betwixt and between.
“Because we know each other so well, as musicians and as people, we can put out things that are very tightly knitted, but also very free,” says Tsahar.
True to their strike-while-the-iron-is-hot ethos, thetrio put Lipsomuch and Soul Searchin’ together in the wake of a string of gigs. “We’d just finished a tour in Israel in 2011 and we went straight into a recording studio,” explains Tsahar. “We’d accumulated all these ideas during the tour and then we started playing around with them in the studio.”
The end product, he says, was not the result of a premeditated line of artistic attack. “We didn’t get together and plan how it was going to go. It all comes out of our moods and ideas and we aimed to come up with something concise. It was about bringing out things and we get into sort of zones which we then address. We’d played together almost every day for three weeks before that, so we were well-oiled as a unit. That’s the best time to go into the studio. We were primed and ready to roll.”
Cooper-Moore, Taylor and Tsahar have been playing together for about 10 years.
“That’s pretty rare in this business, and you feel that – you feel that shared time and work in what we do,” says Tsahar. “It allows us to sort of go with the flow, rather than sitting down and working out who is going to write what. It is a very democratic and organic process.”
In fact, Cooper-Moore and Tsahar have been working together for far longer. “We started playing together with [iconic avantgarde bass player] William Parker around 20 years ago,” notes Tsahar. “Chad and I were at the New School [of Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York] together, although our paths didn’t cross much there, but we later played together as a duo, including in Israel. Then Cooper-Moore and I started playing together with [stellar Chicago drummer] Hamid Drake, but Hamid was always busy, and then Chad came into the picture.” And the rest is history.
More than anything, Tsahar says he and his cohorts try to keep things fresh, both for themselves and for the listening public.
“Each show is like a jigsaw puzzle for us,” he says, “and the fun thing is that the puzzle surprises us too. I think the audience gets that. That’s the real fun element about it all – we never really know what’s coming next.”
For more information about the Digital Primitives concerts: (03) 560-5084 or