Monday, February 14, 2011

I'd Love To Turn You on #27 - Avishai Cohen – Adama (Stretch/Concord)

Here’s a little-known geo-cultural fact for you:  Over the past twenty or so years, perhaps the principal export from the nation is Israel has not been palm dates or petroleum, but rather high-caliber modern jazz musicians.  For evidence, look no further than the multi-talented New York-based saxophonist and clarinetist Anat Cohen, West Coast piano phenom Tamir Hendelman, or John Zorn’s Radical Jewish Music series.  In fact, the bumper crop of Israeli jazz talent includes not one, but TWO Avishai Cohens: one is a fine trumpeter and brother of Anat.  The second – and our subject at hand – is a bassist-composer-bandleader, and of no relation to the aforementioned Cohens.  Bassist Avishai’s first album under his own name was appropriately titled Adama (like the First Man – clever!), and was released back in ’99 by Chick Corea’s Stretch label (distributed by the mighty Concord Music Group).  To these ears, while Avishai hasn’t yet laid an egg in the recording studio, he has approached – but has yet to exceed – the impact of his album #1…
Arriving in the States following his stint in the Israeli military, Avishai dropped Big Apple jaws as a member of Corea’s Origin group.  For his debut session as a leader, Cohen assembled the core of his band from the nucleus of the Origin group, and the years of intra-personal chemistry these young lions enjoyed become immediately apparent!  From the opening theme on, Adama is infused with myriad influences from the fertile Middle Eastern cultural tapestry.  Spanish-Moorish colorings, Turkish-sounding rhythms and time signatures, Arabic instrumentation (Amos Hoffman is a standout addition on some tracks, playing the oud, an ancient lute-like instrument), and the grand tradition of Klezmer improvisation are all in full effect here.  But the unmistakable pulse of modern American jazz provides the foundation for the program to follow.  As to Avishai Cohen the improviser, he possesses in great quantity the qualities we would demand of a jazz bassist: manual dexterity and strength, a wealth of ideas, and rhythmic propulsion are all well provided for here.  As a soloist, few of the thirty/forty-somethings on the scene can even approach Cohen in terms of his fleet fingered plucking and aggressive thwacking on the big fiddle; it’s worth noting though, that his technique is pretty damned amazing but all in the service of the greater musical whole.  If Avishai is ever tempted to show off for the sake of exhibition, he keeps the urge tightly under his thumb.  But just listen to his wild runs up and down the neck of his bass – it gives me a sympathetic chill through my spinal column every time!  A word now on Cohen the arranger: While a pair of Steves – saxophonist Wilson and trombonist Davis – are the only two horns on the date, Avishai’s slippery lines sound much larger than the sum of its instrumental parts.  It’s a big sound, boy.  Big.  These two well-oiled blowers are more than equipped to spiral about one another in tandem, weaving neat voicings and countermelodies.  In the rhythm section you’ll find two then-ascendant, now firmly-established top cats: sparkling pianist Jason Lindner (pick up any ‘90s or more recent jazz CD in this store and there’s an excellent chance he’s sitting in there somewhere) and the colorful, tuneful drums of Jeff Ballard (formerly of Joshua Redman’s groups and Brad Mehldau’s bellwether trio).  These three in the engine room, plus slick horns, some added percussion and a guest appearance by Mr. Corea himself on Fender Rhodes makes this one an intriguing jazz journey over land and sea, smelling of exotic spices and good old New York cellar jazz rooms.
I’d happily recommend this tasty little disc to the classic jazz fan looking for an accessible bridge into newer expressions, or the world music lover interested in deepening their jazz pedigree.  Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll enjoy the music…
Signed with love, from Erik Troe.

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