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


Avishai Cohen - Cross My Palm With Silver

Label/Year: ECM, 2017

Lineup - Avishai Cohen: trumpet; Yonathan Avishai: piano; Barak Mori: bass; Nasheet Waits: drums.

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Avishai Cohen, an intuitive Israeli trumpeter, is one of the most proficient voices of the creative jazz scene. Imagination and passion for exploration are constant aspects in his music, which also benefits from a deliberate openness and compositional adroitness.

His second recording for ECM, Cross My Palm With Silver, is a 5-track delight that shines through the impeccable effort and rapport of a quartet with Yonathan Avishai on piano, Barak Mori on double bass, and the sought-after Nasheet Waits on drums.

Pulsating at a 3/4 tempo, “Will I die Miss? Will I Die?” mixes sketches of Spain with Middle Eastern scenarios. Cohen plays the melody on a crystalline upper register, accommodating it on top of the relentless chordal arrangement of Yonathan. Nasheet appends his beautiful work on cymbals and the drumming bubbles with elegance while Mori sticks to his rhythmic task after uttering the melody. His textures, simultaneously warm and airy, are ideal for the trumpeter’s lucid laments.

Although leisurely paced, “Theme For Jimmy Greene” exemplifies how to create and release tension with exceptional acuity. It feels crushingly emotional thanks to Cohen’s long notes within beautiful short phrases.

Wandering over a path that avoids major startles, “340 Down” is a quiescent piano-less interaction. Only momentaneously, Mori comes to light with an ostinato that matches the last phrase delivered by Cohen. 

Shoot Me in the Leg” boasts an introductory piano section where Yonathan serves up punctilious melody, complex swirling phrases, exquisite chords and arpeggios, and polyphonies, before settling in a cyclic arrangement of voicings. These are combined with bass and drums to better attend to Cohen’s exultant phrasing and pitch range. At this point, the quartet fascinates through a hallucinogenic momentum that penetrates straight into our brains. Yonathan brings cool comping ideas throughout Cohen’s solo and then takes off to blur the line between melodic lines and harmonic underpinnings. The layers of sound are gradually reduced for the ending, and the bandleader ends up alone, centered on a melodic phrase that reappears cyclically.

On the closing number, “50 Years and Counting”, we find Cohen soloing with all his heart. His attacks are composed of intervallic refinement, majestic gestures, and visceral breakthroughs, entailing non-stop emotional impact. In contrast, Yonathan inflicts melodic ideas expressed with a feathery stylishness in his improvisation. This piece lets us immersed in a state of zen, from which I didn’t want to wake up.

Defying convention, Cross My Palm With Silver embraces impressionism as it explores the edges of form and freedom. This is Avishai Cohen at the top of his game.

         Grade  A+

         Grade A+

Favorite Tracks: 
01 – Will I die Miss? Will I Die? ► 04 – Shoot Me in the Leg ► 05 – 50 Years and Counting