Friday, April 1, 2011

Jazzin Israel !

Avishai Cohen Trio - "Remembering"

Since the Israeli double-bassist and composer Avishai Cohen was promoting his new Seven Seas album without its horn section or oud soloist, and (most disconcertingly of all) without percussion master Itamar Doari, the omens weren't so good. Cohen can mix a cellist's purity with a headlong, string-slapping jazz momentum, like a one-man rhythm section, but in folk-crooning vocal mode he can veer into a distracting sentimentality. But he went for the edge instead with regular pianist Shai Maestro and powerful new drummer Amir Bresler, restricting the best of his lullaby-like vocal originals and Sephardic-Jewish Ladino songs to calming interludes.
Seven Seas' Dreaming, a lightly swaying wordless vocal over a catchy piano vamp, turned into a gathering percussion storm for the opener. The gracefully lyrical Lyla was recast as a delicate vocal followed by a double-bass tumult of register-vaulting runs and abrupt percussive exclamations, and Seven Seas itself – opening simply as a staccato, one-note unison pattern for bass and voice – became a vehicle for Bresler's swelling mix of brittle and resonant sounds, and the hum of Cohen's pure bowed notes.
Cheers greeted a seething bass/piano dialogue (Maestro is a master of the art of building excitement) that quoted Summertime, a gentle Ladino ballad sprang into funky life on Cohen's pin-sharp accents, and Bésame Mucho opened on a remarkable bass intro of skipping phrases and blows on the woodwork. The bassist accompanied himself on a haunting solo vocal at the close, before a Latin-dance stomper for the trio that suggested a much bigger outfit. It was a hearteningly spontaneous live performance led by a total musician with a guiding jazz sensibility, but whose uneven recorded output has made him easy to misjudge.

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