Avishai Cohen: Naked Truth (ECM 2737)

Avishai Cohen
Naked Truth

Avishai Cohen trumpet
Yonathan Avishai piano
Barak Mori double bass
Ziv Ravitz drums
Recorded September 2021
Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineer: Gérard de Haro
Mastering: Nicolas Baillard
Cover photo: Juan Hitters
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: February 25, 2022

The first eight notes of Naked Truth planted themselves in the soil of trumpeter Avishai Cohen’s mind at the beginning of the pandemic. Thus sprouted the present suite in as many parts. Every question it poses can only be answered by listening.

Cohen and his faithful bandmates—pianist Yonathan Avishai, bassist Barak Mori, and drummer Ziv Ravitz—craft a story that has been told before, but rarely with such transparency. Part I opens with a duet between Cohen and Mori that looks through holes in the fence of life to glimpse what hopes might exist beyond. Part II introduces the sparks of Avishai at the keys, floating from the small fires of Ravitz at the kit. Cohen and Mori close with a prayer as much for the journey ahead as for the rubble left behind.

The pianism of Part III reaches vastly, setting up a bass-doubled motif that circles in search of song. From these threads, Cohen spins a fibrous sound, muted yet strong enough to suspend the very earth before revealing a heart of light. Past the softer carpet of Part IV, Parts V and VI offer respective interludes for piano and drums, before the introspective Part VII rises in intimate grandeur. Part VIII adopts a backward glance, grooving subtly into the receding horizon.

The set closes with Cohen’s reading of “Departure” (written in full below), a poem by Zelda Schneurson Mishkovsky (1914-1984), in a translation from the Hebrew by Sharon Mohar and Cohen himself. Cohen recited this poem during his ECM 50th anniversary appearance at Lincoln Center. Its opening lines, which make up this review’s epigraph, have lived with me ever since. Mishkovsky reminds us that even when our elders hand us the truths of their experience, we tend to ignore them until we know them firsthand. We must live separated yet ever in the world, holding certainty like the candle it is, knowing its flame will one day sputter out. The music beneath the verses frames Cohen as a traveler whose journey has graciously intersected with ours for the exact duration of this album. I thank him for the honor of sharing the road with us.

… . …

Departure
Zelda Schneurson MishkovskyTranslated from Hebrew by Sharon Mohar and Avishai Cohen

It is necessary to begin the
departure from the splendour
of the skies and the colours
of earth, to stand alone and
face the silence of death, to
part from curiosity, part from
words, all the words that I’ve
read and heard.

And from water, that I’ve
seen and haven’t seen. To die
without seeing the ocean.

Part from the air of the night
and part from the air of the
morning.

Part from weeds, part from a
fruit tree and from a barren
tree, from the lesser light and
from the stars.

Abandon the sight of a flying
bird, part from the sight of
a beast or an insect, part from
my friends and comrades, part
from the dampest of excitement
and from fear of the obscure
madness.

Part from the Shabbat, from the
sweetness of the seventh day.

Part from all work and art, from
rituals, from rain and from all
that is pleasing to the eye.

It is necessary to part from
Knowing-Good-And-Evil of
this world since other terms
of good and evil are there.

Part from what happened, from
the deep sleep and from the
dream.

Part from shame, from the fear
of death, from guilt, from curse,
from exhaustion.

Part from reflections about life,
from reflections about human
nature, from reflections about
the nature of the universe.

Part from reflections about
the difference between myself
and the other, from reflections
about identity, from reflections
about my inner nature, from
reflections about how little
I know about myself and about
all that is around me, part from
the sensation of the soul facing
the high mountains, part from
the need of food, from anxiety,
from the ridicule.

Part from the clouds, from
all that is changing, from the
undefined, from fire, from
stones and from wisdom.

From the physical movement
and from the inner movement.
From love and from hate.
From music. And before the
end, to live with the fear of
their death, and the certainty
of my own.

Avishai Cohen: Big Vicious (ECM 2680)

2680 X

Avishai Cohen
Big Vicious

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.

Avishai Cohen: Cross My Palm With Silver (ECM 2548)

Cross My Palm With Silver

Avishai Cohen
Cross My Palm With Silver

Avishai Cohen trumpet
Yonathan Avishai piano
Barak Mori double bass
Nasheet Waits drums
Recorded September 2016 at Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineers: Gérard de Haro and Nicolas Baillard
Produced by Manfred Eicher
U.S. release date: May 5, 2017

One can always count on being in the moment when experiencing an Avishai Cohen record. The Israeli trumpeter proved as much when he made his ECM debut with 2016’s Into The Silence, from which he now journeys forth with this set of five originals in tow. Cohen calls the quartet assembled here—with pianist Yonathan Avishai, bassist Barak Mori and drummer Nasheet Waits—his “dream team” and the distribution of energies throughout Cross My Palm With Silver confirms it.

Although politically engaged, Cohen’s style of personal reflection takes two inward glances for each outward. The result is that he and his bandmates invariably end up in vastly different places from where they began. They carry impressions to lucid ends, all the while achieving delicate infusions of seeking and finding. “‘Will I Die, Miss? Will I Die?’” epitomizes this philosophy in an intimacy deepened by engineers Gérard de Haro and Nicolas Baillard. One may choose to focus on the melodic convergence of trumpet and piano, but greater subtleties are found beneath: bass is the heartbeat of this musical organism, drums its neural pathways.

The declamatory tenderness of “Theme For Jimmy Greene” feels all the more heartfelt for setting up the piano-less “340 Down.” The latter stumbles but never falls, balancing its tray of motivic possibilities all the way to its destination. “Shoot Me In The Leg” bleeds with Cohen’s most dynamic playing on the record. He moves through changes as fluidly as fast-forwarded footage of clouds. Waits works off Cohen’s fluttering calls, as bass and piano move with varying degrees of angle. The backing trio has a gorgeous aside before Cohen’s final word. “50 Years And Counting” finishes the album with invigorating openness, giving Cohen all the space he needs to work out his expressive alchemy. All of which makes the album’s title that much more enigmatic, for his tone, if anything, is golden.

(This review originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)

Avishai Cohen: Into The Silence (ECM 2482)

Into The Silence

Avishai Cohen
Into The Silence

Avishai Cohen trumpet
Bill McHenry tenor saxophone
Yonathan Avishai piano
Eric Revis double-bass
Nasheet Waits drums
Recorded July 2015, Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineers: Gérard de Haro and Nicolas Baillard
Produced by Manfred Eicher
U.S. release date: February 12, 2016

Following his appearance as sideman on Mark Turner’s Lathe of Heaven, Avishai Cohen makes his leader debut for ECM Records. Bearing dedication to his late father, Into The Silence teams the trumpeter with a fantastic band of his own that includes tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry, pianist Yonathan Avishai, bassist Eric Revis, and drummer Nasheet Waits. This effort marks the first time the band had, as such, stepped foot inside a studio, and the results hark back to the golden age of ECM in both texture and mood. From its spacious arranging and freely realized originals to its classical roots (the solo piano music of Rachmaninoff was a conscious inspiration) and cross-pollination of styles, Cohen’s musical identity speaks at once from without and within.

Through the six-sided prism of as many tunes, Cohen shines a light as only the darkness of mourning could yield. The muted lines of “Life And Death” feel as much celebratory as elegiac. Cohen thus asserts himself as more than a voice among the voiceless, as if the album’s titular silence were not the absence of sound but a personal choice to protect one’s dreams. Here, however, we are bathed in dreamlike qualities with such melodiousness that it’s all we can do to not imagine the many fates that must have convened to produce this patient bit of magic. Avishai’s pianism is another ripe fruit in the band’s gift basket. Morphing from barest comping to bluesy climatic shifts and sparkling tails, he is a comet in an already starry sky. The end of this opener, though a postludinal afterthought, is just as substantial as what comes before it.

“Dream Like A Child” only deepens the spell craft of its predecessor. Unmuted yet just as vulnerable, Cohen undoes the ribbon of this offering to reveal a melodic ocean just aching to crash on the listener’s shore. The pianism is majestic yet aptly proportioned, mirroring the underlying respectful altitude at every turn: just when you think it has gathered enough momentum to soar, it touches its feet to the earth. Though things do cohere in more groove-oriented ways as the rhythm section builds a higher and higher wall from which Cohen and McHenry must jump, there’s no doubt that the ground will hold its foundation through Waits’s textural reinforcements.

The title track expands on ECM’s evolving ethos of ritualistic jazz, as drums and microtonal harmonies in the piano interlock with downright spiritual patience. Again, the band flirts with groove but foregoes that sweetness for a cerebral savory. These strategies become more evident with repeat listens (for this is, indeed, an album you’ll want to return to time and again). Waits is an organic force here, moving from tumbling abstractions to tight snare rolls at the flick of a wrist, his plumage fully outstretched.

A Cohen

Somberness, however, is never far behind, and “Quiescence” bottles its fragrance like a master perfumer. Cohen’s trumpeting is the center of a vocal solar system, shining through planets forged in thematic space dust. Lengths of days and seasonal changes are determined by the gravitational pull of nostalgia, so that by the next track, “Behind The Broken Glass,” one knows that fragmentation is a universal law. Cohen proves that, in the wake of any emotional shattering, no effort of putting the pieces back together will produce a clean reflection, for it will always bear the scars of its undoing. The breadth of his inspirations has brought him to this humble (and humbling) realization in his career, and finds empathetic amplification in his bandmates that funnels in the solo piano reprise of “Life And Death” that ends the album’s journey.

Having seen this project with a different roster at the 2016 New York City Winter Jazzfest, I can attest to the raw, living power of its music. So much so that, following that experience, this studio date feels somewhat tame by comparison. So: see them in person if you can, but revel in the wonders of this “second best” all the same, for in them is a pilot light that ECM lit nearly five decades ago, and which continues to burn pure and warm despite the winds of change.