Avishai Cohen wears many hats on Lyla-bassist, pianist, composer, vocalist and producer-and it's clear that this first release on his new Razdaz label comes as a labor of love. Perhaps more significant, the album encapsulates a host of influences and instrumentations, providing a panoramic snapshot of Cohen's emerging oeuvre.
At the center of the action is the bassist's International Vamp Band, a road-tested experiment in timbre and time. Opening with Cohen's "Ascension," the band unleashes bleating horn riffs and skittering electronics over a West African figure, leaving just enough room to accommodate earnest solos. On the title track, Cohen adds a pair of vocalists in octaves; coupled with his Fender Rhodes, it's a sound quite evocative of Chick Corea's Return to Forever.
Corea was, until recently, both Cohen's bandleader and his label honcho at Stretch, but their split seems more than amicable. The two duet gracefully here on Corea's "Eternal Child"; it's only the most obvious gesture on an album that seems suffused with the keyboardist's presence. (Even "Simple Melody," the bass-and-vocals ditty that closes the disc, seems informed by the Corea lexicon, both in lyric and line.) Yet this is Cohen's music, and he marshals his troops-most notably trumpeter Diego Urcola, saxophonist Yosvany Terry, trombonist Avi Lebovich and drummer Eric McPherson-with the authority of a commanding officer.
In terms of originality, Cohen can count "How Long" and "Handsonit" as highlights of the album. The former tune fuses his now-trademark vamp strategy with his vocal delivery; the latter is an electro-acoustic tour de force. (Electronics come courtesy of Mark Guiliana, a newer collaborator.)
On Lyla, Cohen is not stretching boundaries so much as defining his own parameters. This CD clearly marks a breakthrough for Cohen, and it'll be fascinating to see which direction he turns next.