Avishai Cohen / Yonathan Avishai - Playing The Room

Label: ECM Records, 2019

Personnel - Avishai Cohen: trumpet; Yonathan Avishai: piano.

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Trumpeter Avishai Cohen and pianist Yonathan Avishai, two kindred spirits prone to appealing nuanced interaction, celebrate their old friendship and fruitful musical partnership (started at a young age when they were still living in Tel Aviv) on Playing The Room, their debut duo recording. The album includes two originals, one from each musician, and many nods to prominent artists in a variety of styles.

The first two pieces on the album are the original compositions. The first is “The Opening” by Cohen, which spills sentiment all over with rubato lyricism and a melody that recalls the standard “My One And Only Love”. The second track is Yonathan’s “Two Lines”, a ravishingly textured enterprise whose magnetic suspensions are composed of anchored piano pedals and precise unisons. Later on, it airs further gracefulness and expands horizons when Cohen’s trumpet lines dance all over Yonathan’s lush chords and temperate activities.

Among the eight chosen covers, there is one that immediately stands out: John Coltrane’s “Crescent” is simply astonishing. The tune is subjected to a reverent, personal treatment of dark and bright shades, and without losing a bit of spirituality, feels like a lament. It starts off with trumpet, whose fully-formed melodies come filled with emotion and transparency. On its side, the wide-ranging piano work is sculpted with dramatic heft and a multitude of colors. It’s a fulfilling experience.

Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Kofifi Blue”, which still holds that lovable African feel, and Duke Ellington’s dulcet “Azalea”, are consciously melodic pieces, following a more typical structure and form. On the latter, the musicians’ highly contrasting pitches create a positive effect, and you’ll find penetrating trumpet notes being set against the unostentatious, occasionally crawling pianism.

Ornette Coleman’s blithesome “Dee Dee” comes equipped with that inherent free bop urgency and lively folkish melody, which tours in unison for a while before split into both shimmering counterpoint and free ramble. The rhythmic work of both players is fundamental and their coordination noteworthy.

If, at this point, you still doubt about the versatility of this expressive duo, then listen to the album’s two last pieces. They are “Sir Duke”, Stevie Wonder’s funk/R&B tribute to Duke Ellington, which in this piano-driven rendition gains a slight Afro pulse while keeping the original melody distinguishable; and “Shir Eres”, a lullaby by Israeli composer Sasha Argov, whose classical intonation recalls Erik Satie in the mood.

Boundless in the elements from which they draw inspiration, Cohen and Yonathan prove to have a solid rapport and cook up an accessible offering stuffed with adventurous moments.

Grade  B+

Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Two Lines ► 03 - Crescent ► 04 - Azalea