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Yuval Cohen: Song Without Words

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All too often a recording such as Yuval Cohen’s Song Without Words-the soprano saxophonist and pianist Shai Maestro in eight duets-cries out for a rhythm section. Not here though: There’s nothing bare about these conversations, and fleshing them out with bass, drums or anything else would likely feel intrusive. Cohen (who also records with his sister, Anat, and brother, Avishai, as the 3 Cohens) and Maestro (who has worked with the other Avishai Cohen, the bassist, since the mid-2000s) forge an immediate bond from the opening title track, one of two written by Cohen, that is never broken. The intimacy of their dialogue is why Song Without Words is so easy to embrace.

Recorded in Jerusalem in 2009-both Cohen and Maestro are Israeli-Song Without Words is largely a placid set. The pastoral scene depicted on the album’s cover carries through into the performances, in which melody remains key even as the pair stretches. But although they’re working in a spare, unencumbered setting, Cohen and Maestro never veer toward languor or gooey softness. Coltrane’s “26-2” is typical of the rapport they exhibit throughout: Cohen and Maestro lock into a unison groove for the first third of the tune, which gives way subtly but steadily to impeccably framed solos before the two slip just as effortlessly back into a lock-step rhythm. “Bye Bye Blackbird” acknowledges the inherent whimsy of the standard but prefers to stay in more melancholy territory, while Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark” flits between brooding, spacious passages and more optimistic flights.

Of the originals, Maestro’s “Angelo” is especially regal, the pianist finding a place where Bach-like stateliness and the blues share the same air happily, and Cohen’s “Nature Song,” which closes the set, traverses several dispositions without those shifts feeling indulgent.

Originally Published