Flood is the second installment of Avishai Cohen’s projected three-CD project, The Big Rain Trilogy. Cohen is a world-class trumpet player. Flood gives him new cred as a composer and auteur.
The concept is complex. In the new millennium, it is impossible to call a work Flood without alluding to Katrina, and indeed Cohen says that the trilogy is his first attempt to explore social questions in musical settings. But he also sees floods, even lethal ones, as elements of nature’s cycle.
It is remarkable how Cohen, using only three instruments, so powerfully sweeps the arc of a large subject. The other two players, pianist Yonatan Avishai and drummer Daniel Freedman, creatively fulfill the roles that Cohen defines for them. “First Drops” opens the story with Avishai’s quiet piano distillations. Freedman’s hand drum entrance is dramatic, and then Cohen’s trumpet sways within an aching melody over Avishai’s gentle ostinato. “Heavy Water: Prologue” is a solo trumpet meditation, whispered into the distance through digital delay. Cohen is a multi-cultural jazz musician, among whose ancestors is Miles Davis. Like Davis, he can make the trumpet a vehicle for uttering the most poignant and portentous human cries.
When the forces of nature arrive in Cohen’s suite (“Heavy Water,” “Flood”), they are less threatening than expected. “Nature’s Dance” is a throbbing celebration. “Sunrays Over Water” is a brief respite of luminous lyricism, embodied in Cohen’s muted trumpet and Avishai’s incantatory rituals. Cohen assembles his narrative from simple motifs whose recurrence carries the message of the earth’s cyclical renewal.
Flood requires concentration from the listener, because its epiphanies are subtle, and it reveals them so slowly. But 2008 contained very few jazz recordings as genuinely majestic, and as successful in fulfilling major ambitions.