Avishai Cohen trumpet, effects, synthesizer
Uzi Ramirez guitar
Jonathan Albalak guitar, bass
Aviv Cohen drums
Ziv Ravitz drums, live sampling
Recorded August 2019, Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineers: Gérard de Haro and Romain Castéra
Mastering: Nicolas Baillard
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: March 27, 2020
Big Vicious marks the studio debut of trumpeter Avishai Cohen’s eponymous band. Already six years old, this assembly with Uzi Ramirez (guitar), Jonathan Albalak (guitar, bass), Aviv Cohen (drums), and Ziv Ravitz (drums, live sampling) embodies the canyon-wide leap of evolution Cohen has taken across ECM’s terrain since Into The Silence in 2016. This album is distinguished by its digital sheen, which through a web of guitars and live sampling shines the light of a distant future on the darker here and now. It’s a sensation amplified by the project’s silent partner, Tel Aviv musician-producer Yuvi Havkin (a.k.a. Rejoicer), who served as Cohen’s cowriter (another new direction for the frontman) on such tracks as “Honey Fountain” and “Teno Neno.” Where the former lifts the spirit by chains of echoing sentiment, even as it redraws boundaries of the flesh from which it stretches a hand toward hope, the latter tune speaks of moonlight in the language of a star.
From start to finish, Cohen fulfills the role of a storyteller gathering characters, dialogue, and settings, and in his combinations of those elements forges history. Throughout “Hidden Chamber,” his trumpet is a warrior of light, a reminder that politics forces us into places where tongues of strife lose their sense of taste. Cohen’s composing paves us a viable detour. From the propulsive bassing of “King Kutner” to the regressive groove of “This Time It’s Different,” every melody oils our skin through the thorny bramble of adversity.
The brightest heavenly bodies are the band’s arrangements. Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” for one, is reborn. Shedding every possible shade of cliché, it lives in a space only ECM can provide. Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” gets an equally postlapsarian treatment and harks to the earliest days of Big Vicious, when Cohen and friends mainly played 90s covers. The original lyrics of this song are appropriate in describing the present sound:
Water is my eye
Most faithful mirror
Fearless on my breath
Teardrop on the fire
Of a confession
Likewise, messages ooze from the ground as if during a spring thaw. Each is artfully crafted, traveling upward in a vortex of self-regard.
Of especial note is the album’s cover, a painting by David Polonsky, perhaps best known for Waltz with Bashir. Like the image itself, this is music that eschews photorealism in favor of something touched by hands, materials, and movement. It is also the visual equivalent of the album’s closer, “Intent,” which is so smooth that you might just find yourself blending in with your surroundings, wherever you happen to be.