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August 2008

Avishai Cohen Trio
Gently Disturbed
Razdaz/Sunnyside

Over the past 10 years, the remarkably gifted Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen established himself as a chopsmeister of the highest order, as well as an accomplished and prolific composer. His work with Chick Corea’s Origin sextet and the Chick Corea New Trio confirmed his ability to cut demanding ensemble parts while also demonstrating an assured sense of swing. But this highly disciplined trio offering is not rooted in a tradition of swinging. Instead, Cohen explores an exacting chamberlike aesthetic with the 21-year-old Israeli piano phenom Shai Maestro and the extraordinary drummer Mark Guiliana. And the results are often scintillating, if not particularly swinging in a straightahead 4/4 sense. Indeed, some of this material is closer in spirit to the heady extrapolations of the Bad Plus than to any conventional jazz piano trio.

On the delicate waltz-time opener “Seattle,” Maestro imbues the lovely folkish melody with some darkly dissonant voicings while Cohen delivers an expressive, deep-toned bass solo over a minor-key vamp. Cohen’s “Chutzpann” is a propulsive piece full of daring intervallic leaps and intricate time-shifting devices. Cohen delivers another virtuosic solo, exploring the higher register of the instrument, while drummer Guiliana colors the groove with some highly interactive textural playing around the kit. A deeply soulful rendition of the traditional Israeli folk tune “Lo Baiom Velo Balyla” is underscored by Guiliana’s sensitive brushwork while Maestro offers some lyrical playing on top of the melancholy theme that is marked by classical elegance and clarity. Maestro’s delicate touch and classical training also come to the fore on an interpretation of the traditional number “Puncha Puncha.”

The rhythmically charged “Eleven Wives,” the polyrhythmic puzzle “Pinzin Kinzin” and the hypnotic title track, which is built on a simple, repeating ostinato, all cross over into the Bad Plus camp. “The Ever Evolving Etude” is a clever exercise in metric modulation and complex polyrhythms that gradually evolves into a Latin-flavored, clave-fueled workout reminiscent of Chick Corea’s ’70s masterwork, My Spanish Heart. The baroque-ish “Variations in G Minor” is a showcase of Cohen’s phenomenal pizzicato virtuosity, underscored by Guiliana’s highly interactive (and yes, swinging) approach to the kit, while the pensive “Umray” reveals Cohen’s astounding arco technique.

Teeming with energy, original ideas and virtuosic soloing by the bassist-composer, Gently Disturbed is another reason to consider Cohen among the elite bassists on the scene today.

Originally published in August 2008
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