Avishai Cohen – Into the Silence.
(ECM 475 9435. CD review by Jon Turney)
Trumpeter Avishai Cohen has been establishing a solid reputation as a player to watch out for, live and on CD, most recently with his trio Triveni – who mix his own tunes with well-chosen standards by masters from Ellington to Ornette Coleman. His devotion to both those predecessors tells you a bit about his range.
He also caught a lot of ears on Mark Turner’s first quartet release for ECM last year. Now comes his own debut for the label as leader, and a satisfyingly substantial one it is. The music features a core quartet, with Triveni’s peerless drummer Nasheet Waits, Eric Revis on bass, and French-resident Israeli pianist Yonathan Avishai, who the trumpeter has known since both were youngsters in Tel Aviv. Bill McHenry’s tenor sax fills out the sound on a few tracks.
All the pieces, effectively a suite, were composed by Cohen in the months after his father’s death in 2014. Hence the reflective mood, and a nice ambiguity in that title. Does Into the Silence refer to the move from life to death, or to sounds pitched into the silence that follows it? Perhaps both. The slow opener, Life and Death, does sound like a threnody. But the two long pieces that follow, while never exactly upbeat, cover a full spectrum of emotions. Dream like a child refers to his father’s hope he might be a musician himself. It was an aspiration his three children – Avishai, clarinet player Anat and saxophonist Yuval – realised instead, and the piece expresses celebration as well as regret. Into the Silence is more of a lament, and there is plenty of harmonic and rhythmic turmoil before silence eventually falls.
It is a small surprise to find Cohen offering an album that fits so squarely with what is usually identified as the ECM aesthetic after the more unbuttoned approach of Triveni, but it is entirely appropriate for this material. The set is, needless to say, beautifully recorded, the detail of the drums in particular sounding exquisite. The individual contributions all serve the material, with the pianist, especially, offering superbly atmospheric elaborations of Cohen’s melodies. The composer’s trumpet is a model of heartfelt expression throughout. One finely controlled moment can stand for many. As the last phrases of the penultimate piece, Behind the Broken Glass, approach, Cohen, his trumpet’s clear tones leading the mourners again, suddenly thins and softens his timbre for the closing few notes, as a eulogist might who can only just get the words out. Simple, fleeting, and deeply affecting. The final cut is a brief solo piano reprise of Life and Death that repeats in miniature the accomplishment of the whole set – being sober but not solemn, often plangent but always affirmative.