Avishai Cohen: Seven Seas

Philip Booth reviews the latest from the Israeli-born bassist

There’s an attractive searching quality to the music on the latest collection of ambitious, atmospheric compositions from Avishai Cohen. The Israeli-born bassist, a one-time Chick Corea sideman who’s been leading his own sessions since the mid-’90s, returns on his 12th album to familiar musical terrain. Seven Seas offers folk melodies from his homeland; Middle Eastern textures, including colourful contributions from oud and guitar player Amos Hoffman, a regular associate; feathery pop vocals from the leader and Karen Malka; and quick-shifting time signatures. Underneath it all lies a surging ocean of piano (Cohen, Shai Maestro), strings, mellow horns and, of course, Cohen’s pulsing, cascading, beautifully timbred basslines.

The title track, one of several occasions on the disc when Cohen drives his music as hard as he typically does in concert, opens with a fluttering bass-and-vocal figure, trailed by Maestro’s hyper piano and Itamar Doari’s urgent percussion, and offers ample space for the bassist’s zigzagging figures and unfettered solo improvisation. “Ani Aff,” similarly, moves at a trot, with Cohen doubling Maestro’s lines in support of breezy vocals and the pianist’s smartly turned horn arrangement. The slowly shifting “Hayo Hayta” opens up for some emotive soprano playing by saxophonist Jimmy Greene. Cohen demonstrates his prodigious chops again on the rising-and-falling “Two Roses” (Shnei Shoshanim), and closes the album on a somber note, with the traditional Sephardic-Jewish Ladino song “Tres Hermanicas Eran.”

Cohen, who has returned to Israel, comfortably straddles several genres. It’s safe and probably accurate to think of his work as an appealing fusion of jazz and world music, with hints of pop, Third Stream and even New Age in the mix. It’s to his credit that the blend never comes off as less than organic.