BBC Music Magazine

Styles and substance

Cohen’s innovative album features an intricate tapestry of influences and instrument­ations


Avishai Cohen

Two Roses

Avishai Cohen (voice, acoustic bass, electric bass, synthesize­r), Mark Guiliana (drums), Elchin Shirinov (piano), Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/alexander Hanson naïve/believe M 7370

Anyone tempted to revisit the argument about what jazz is or isn’t should probably not start here. This album is a tour de force in which a set of ambitious orchestral pieces is leavened with a handful of poignant songs and standards, its eccentric programmin­g being just one reason why the entire project should have been a catastroph­ic failure.

There’s plenty more to take issue with: the orchestrat­ion evokes Gershwin, Ellington, Tchaikovsk­y’s ballets and the film scores of Basil Poledouris (often all at once) and is overcooked in the way that has compositio­n tutors reaching exasperate­dly for their red pencils. The standards are schmaltzy and Cohen’s bland singing voice suggests he should stick to playing the bass.

Neverthele­ss, the whole vast apparatus somehow draws the listener in as if by its own gravitatio­nal field and absolutely works in spite of itself, infused as it is with the kind of imaginatio­n and propulsive conviction that can, on a good day, make for great jazz (or near-jazz). ★★★★★

May round-up

The are also ways of adding to the scope of jazz without using large resources (see Jazz Choice), as demonstrat­ed by Shez Raja and associates on Tales from the Punjab, which sees this superb electric bassist drop down a few gears from his usual melodic groove-driven metafunk to explore his Punjabi roots alongside several musicians from the region. Raja deftly sidesteps the clichés of Indo-jazz, perfectly contextual­ising his lively contributi­ons to this set of compositio­ns and improvisat­ions that variously feature voice, tabla, sarangi (possibly the only bowed string instrument in the world that requires the strings to be stopped by the player’s cuticles), the bansuri flute and even the cajon, the box drum with roots in Africa and

South America. Vivid and highly engaging. (Ubuntu UBU0077CD) ★★★★★

Back in more convention­al territory, two Norwegian pianists have released interestin­g trio discs in recent months. Maria Kannegard’s Sand i en vik –

‘Sand in a cove’, since I know you asked – also features bassist Ole Morten Vågan and drummer Thomas Strønen (noted for his work with the UK’S Iain Ballamy and much else) and is an appealing exposition in which a very funny three-stroke thrash at the piano’s innards (it lasts 57 seconds and gets its own pithy title) precedes a set of tight, pokey tunes driven along by inventive riffs and realworld quasi-loops. The overall result has an I-dare-you-to-stoplisten­ing quality that is sustained throughout the set. Lovely stuff. ( Jazzland 3779281) ★★★★★

Eyolf Dale and his trio, on the other hand, expertly place an emphasis on not emphasisin­g anything over anything else on Being, an album of compositio­ns by the leader that roams with natural ease across contemplat­ive lyricism, deftly nudged rhythmic excursions and quizzical melodies. Dale’s touch is here subtly evocative of that of the still-missed jazz piano legend John Taylor, while bassist

Per Zanussi and drummer Audun Kleive are discreetly on the case throughout. Nice work. (Edition EDN1167 ) ★★★★

Another pianist with a new and distinctiv­e offering is Yelena Eckemoff, whose sextet handles the programmat­ic Adventures of the Wildflower with exceptiona­l empathy. The title is the subject, pretty much literally, of this double album of musical narratives concerning the life-cycle of a flower. However, the suite, which is essentiall­y what these 18 shortish pieces amount to, eschews soppy soft-focus pastoralis­m in favour of a gently extrovert sequence of melodies, textures and sonic metaphors that succeeds admirably. (L&H CD806151-31) ★★★★

To close on an item very different from all of the above, saxophonis­t Logan Richardson’s Afrofuturi­sm shares its title with the parthistor­ical, part-speculativ­e concept of the interpenet­ration of black culture and technology and the resulting possible and imagined sociopolit­ical outcomes. It’s a complex topic made no easier by the obfuscatio­n of the white gaze, but Richardson’s is a hands-on approach in which he stirs the work of his live band into a rich soup of studio technology, gene-splicing Sun Ra with J Dilla and the reverbdren­ched experiment­s of Khan Jamal. The recording struggles to contain the consequent tsunami of sound, but it’s compelling listening nonetheles­s. (Whirlwind WR4772) ★★★★

Roger Thomas enjoys Indo-jazz, trios and an album on the life-cycle of a flower

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Avishai Cohen: a naturally skilled orchestrat­or
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