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Avishai Cohen: Liner Notes "Gently Disturbed"

Avishai Cohen - "Gently Disturbed" (Razdaz/Rough Trade, 2008)

Watch out! A new piano trio on the rise. Not your usual piano-bass-drum formula, but a new one that transcends the genre’s characteristics by far. In fact, it’s altogether, completely different.

The bandleader, recognized as one of the world’s top bassplayers, is also a remarkable pianist, which provides him with a closer, more immediate connection to the band’s keyboarder. What’s more, Cohen is one of the most percussive bass players, influencial in establishing his very special connection to the drummer. If, for a moment, you might imagine his trio colleagues as being the left and right end of a chain waiting to be connected, then Cohen embodies what we might see as the perfect missing link.

But it’s not only about a strong bond between these three like-minded players; it’s also about their creating a texture of very cleverly interwoven elements. This is storytelling, from beginning to end, and developing stories is serious fun for Cohen. For example, look at the wonderful way he builds up “The Ever Evolving Etude”; a tune that has its own evolutionary story and history, beginning with “Etude” (on the album Unity), moving on to “The Evolving Etude” (on the album Lyla) and then to “The Ever Evolving Etude”. It seems that this is a sort of tune “to be continued”, we “stay tuned” for what’s coming up next...

In Cohen’s work, compositional fragments are linked to form a tightly woven network, where bits and pieces are locked into each other, just like his music is locked into a network of various musical traditions (Middle Eastern, Arabic, European Classical, Black Music, Latin), or like his playing locks in with that of his fellow players. Therefore, it is only logical that they also break with the conventions of more traditional forms. And don’t expect the often tiring addition of one chorus after the other. The ‘theme-solo-theme’ format is left aside, replaced by a structure born out of the very drama of the piece itself. For example, a tune might start with an ostinato and end, quite unexpectedly, with a bass solo...or even a drum solo!

Cohen’s bassplaying is fundamental, in the literal sense of a real “fundament”, for, in almost every tune, one finds a structure that may be described as “architectural”. And though the worn-out metaphor of bassists being “solid as a rock” might still fit in here somehow, what is new and fresh in this music is that the solid rock Cohen can also turn on a dime and create a storm. At times, the music goes gradually from something very delicate and subtle to a level of higher energies, thus creating pure excitement; a process driven by Cohen’s highly-energetic, percussive bass.

When renowned American jazz photographer Patrick Hinely talks about photography, he speaks about those perfect moments “when the geometric and the poetic pass through their fleetingly highest confluence”. And that’s exactly what you will find in this trio’s music. Cohen calls this “Structure In Emotion”, a title (first recorded for the Lyla album) that both sums up and is the essence of his music.

This is not only trio music of a new and different kind, but also a new sort of chamber music,—it grooves. And not only does it groove, but it moves, and in motion, finds emotion. Cohen takes on the challenge of what is seemlingly contradictory and makes it work: density combines with transparency, complexity with accessibility, depth and melancholy with the serene and uplifting...and thus expresses ambivalence easily, knowing how to dry a tear with a smile; (take, for instance, the strangely magnetic “Gently Disturbed” or the almost classical, chamber music-like “Umray”). The ability to do this is in itself an art form; one that the trio truly masters. Once again, this is serious fun.

There is also a simplicity that resonates, even throughout it’s most sophisticated moments. Audiences worldwide have reacted strongly to this; energized by the trio’s music, they are also deeply moved by it, as it seems to truly “touch a chord” and pull a special string inside of them.

Perhaps he may seem hopelessly idealistic, but Cohen approaches music with a global vision. Long before the words globalisation and glocalisation entered our vocabulary, it was migration that led to the crossover of cultures. More than ever before, the musician of today is the post-modern sailor, the 21st century nomad wandering through new and old worlds, known and unknown lands; eager to connect with all sorts of people of various backgrounds and mentalities. The inescapable result is the impulse to embrace the eclectic. And that is Avishai Cohen: eclectic throughout, and yet still genuine; entirely himself.

Take “Eleven Wives”, for example: a 11/8 gem, reminiscent of an Eastern European wedding tune but, in the same breath, this is pure, 100% Cohen. He has travelled the world (and “Seattle”, by the way, was written in that city), absorbing all sorts of sounds like a sponge. And, since our man has a multicultural background himself (his mother and father are Israeli born; his mother’s parents stemming from Turkey and Greece, his father’s of Czech and Polish background), he possesses an ever-growing awareness of his own multifaceted cultural heritage. Exploring the soul on familiar soil took the form of a move back from New York to Israel in 2004. Not exactly the return of the prodigal son, but certainly a homecoming of sorts.

Further along those lines, Cohen has just recorded a vocal project, soon to be released, where he and his mother sing vintage Hebrew songs in a modern way (another good example of how wonderfully he unites the old with the new may be heard in ‘Variations in G Minor’, whose chord structure is almost renaissance-like). You will also find one of those Ladino tunes on this trio record in “Puncha Puncha”, and another traditional one is “Lo Baiom VE lo Ba Lyla”, a beautiful Hebrew song, popularised by Chama, a famous singer of the 60s and 70s. Furthermore, Cohen’s close bond with the home-grown of his native land is strengthened by the presence of his fellow Israeli pianist, with the fitting name of Shai Maestro.

Surely, taking one’s place on the piano stool in Avishai Cohen’s band is not child’s play, there is no soft pillow upon which to relax. Cohen has played with the greatest, such as Danilo Perez, Brad Mehldau or Chick Corea, or the exceptional key players in his own bands, Jason Lindner and Sam Barsh. And don’t forget,- our bassist is a great pianist in his own right. No wonder that Cohen is very particular when it comes to this “key” element. He found Maestro, who had been familiar with Cohen’s music long before they met, and who had heard the bassist for the first time with Corea at the tender age of ten, in Sweden.

Cohen’s respect for his latest piano player may be found reflected in two titles: “Young Maestro”, an hommage to the 20-year-old(!) Maestro (a tune not included in the CD but as a single for Itunes), and “Chutzpan”, the Hebrew word for someone with an “attitude”; someone highly inquisitive by nature and basically quite sure of himself. Cohen and Maestro have started doing something that all great pairings have done and still do – from Ellington & Strayhorn to Metheny & Mays: they join forces in the early stage of the composing itself. One example of their co-writing is “Pinzin Kinzin”, a word creation charted coming out Maestro’s mouth when he does his occasional beatboxing. The tune has been arranged by drummer Mark Guiliana, who is only 28 years old but has already been a member of Avishai’s groups since 2003. Guiliana co-wrote tunes on at Home and Lyla and co-produced the latter (if you want to find out more about Mark’s compositional ideas and another quite unorthodox trio, check out his electrifying “experimental-garage-jazz” band HEERNT whose debut Locked In A Basement was recently released on Avishai Cohen’s label Razdaz Recordz).

So, here they are... three outstanding musicians who not only act, but also sound as a unit. And it is not only the tightness that makes you hear something much bigger than the sum of its individual parts; this music reaches a spiritual level that unifies.

The source of all that is an inner urge, is passion. And Avishai Cohen is loaded with passion, from head to toe and from his heart to his fingertips. One of nature’s finest gifts is the passion fruit, and this trio is definitely a fruit of passion...so, bite down and enjoy!

Karsten Mützelfeldt (WDR und Deutschlandfunk)


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