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July/August 2007

Avishai Cohen
As Is … Live at the Blue Note
Half Note Records

Bassist Avishai Cohen is blossoming into one of the more interesting musicians of his generation. His jazz is modern and inquisitive, searching for new means of self-expression while remaining mindful of the postbop tradition. He fuses ideas from Latin, Middle Eastern, classical and pop music into his compositions and improvisations. His tunes, especially his melodies, are highly structured, yet he and his sidemen shape things on the spot.

As Is is Cohen’s first live record, and it’s a beauty. The core of the group is a phenomenally talented trio that includes pianist Sam Barsh and drummer Mark Guilliana. Plus, we hear quite a bit from two terrific horn players, saxophonist Jimmy Greene and trumpeter Diego Urcola. They start the set with “Smash,” as an ethereal electric keyboard leads to a Latin-tinged piano, soon joined by a driving rock beat. Cohen is a former sideman of Chick Corea, and the old boss’ influence is clearly heard in this tune, which finds Cohen getting funky on the electric bass. “Elli,” an acoustic ballad featuring only the trio, picks up energy as the musicians gently pluck, peck and tap their way through the piece.

Guilliana really swings into action with “Etude.” The pianist’s rollicking solo manages to grow both contrapuntal and counter-rhythmic, Urcola turns out some pulverizing work of his own, and Greene fires things up with a solo in which he plays against key, while Guilliana is comping against key! The rhythm section goes it alone with a sweet take of “Remembering,” a pretty little ballad that evokes Debussy, before the band wraps it up with an extremely funked-up version of “Caravan” that has the musicians overlapping time signatures. Oh, to have been at the Blue Note to hear this music live.

Originally published in July/August 2007
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