It’s inevitably tempting to link Cross My Palm With Silver to the first album from Israeli trumpeter Avishai Cohen for ECM, last year’s Into the Silence. Guest saxophonist Bill McHenry is absent, and Cohen’s longtime friend Barak Mori replaces bassist Eric Revis in the core quartet. But the iconic production of Manfred Eicher’s label again seems perfectly suited to etching forth the nuances of Cohen’s exquisite tone, which manages to sound sharp and buffered at the same time. Cohen on ECM has been compared to Miles Davis’ association with Gil Evans, but a better analogy might be the sterling string of records Freddie Hubbard put out on Creed Taylor’s CTI label in the early ’70s.
Another reason for the linkage is that, like Into the Silence, which dealt with Cohen’s reaction to the death of his father, the music on Cross My Palm With Silver is at least initially meant to have specific emotional touchstones. The leadoff track, “Will I Die, Miss? Will I Die?,” is inspired by video footage of a Syrian boy following a chemical gas attack, and Cohen’s approach is by turns plaintive and tender. That’s followed by “Theme for Jimmy Greene,” in tribute to the saxophonist who lost a child at Sandy Hook Elementary. Abetted by the brushwork of drummer Nasheet Waits, pianist Yonathan Avishai’s opening mixes beauty and dignity, and the piece ascends to Cohen’s somewhat triumphant climax, consonant with Greene’s celebratory recordings dedicated to his daughter’s life.
While the other three song titles have topical relevance to history and events in the Middle East, the sheer artistry of jazz interplay takes precedence. “340 Down” sounds like a spontaneous but telepathic improvisation that is dominated by the imaginative chemistry between Waits and Cohen. “Shoot Me in the Leg” roams through a variety of moods and themes over a 12-minute span, bracketed by another stark piano intro from Avishai and a long coda by Cohen. And “50 Years and Counting” is the most upbeat and straight-ahead number of the bunch. Bottom line, you can’t go wrong with Avishai Cohen and Nasheet Waits on ECM.