Live reviews

REVIEW: Avishai Cohen Trio at the Barbican (2018 EFG LJF)

Avishai Cohen
Photo credit: John Watson/

Avishai Cohen Trio 
(Barbican Hall, 25 November 2018. EFG LJF. Review by Peter Jones)

The idea was to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Avishai Cohen’s 2008 album Gently Disturbed by playing everything from it with the original band – Cohen himself, composer of most of it, on bass and vocals, Shai Maestro on piano and Mark Guiliana, drums. If you’ve never heard Avishai Cohen, he is first and foremost a consummate player of the double bass, who has collaborated with everyone from Chick Corea to Alicia Keys – although these successes came only after the Israeli-born musician’s painful dues-paying in the streets, subways and parks of New York City.

Cohen’s whole approach is extremely energetic, and he’s not interested in playing in any conventional way: he doesn’t just pluck the strings, he spanks the whole instrument, sometimes to percussive effect, at other times, it seems, simply to generate some more energy; he even attacks the strings below the bridge. And unlike most jazz bassists, who might pick up the bow a couple of times on a gig, he makes extensive use of it, reflecting his classical roots, although he draws his influences from everywhere and anywhere.

Mark Guiliana
Photo credit: John Watson/

Take Pinzin Kinzin: it has a fast, complex, repetitive rhythmic pattern, Bach-like cadences, a lack of obvious melody. That isn’t to say the music is discordant, it’s more a matter of emphasis. When Cohen wants to be melodic, he can do it beautifully. This was especially evident when he sang: Puncha Puncha, a pretty instrumental on the Gently Disturbed album, became a thing of real beauty with lyrics sung in the Judeo-Spanish language Ladino, with only Maestro’s piano for accompaniment. Cohen has a light, pleasant voice that would be less affecting if it were more tutored. It humanizes music that at times can be overly riffy and polyrhythmic. The first of three encore tunes was another case in point, the traditional spiritual Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child, sung this time with just the bass.

At their least interesting, the Trio can sound like Go Go Penguin, lacking variety and over-reliant on bombast. At their best, they can be sublime, Maestro twinkling away with the delicacy of Erik Satie, Guiliana scuttering around his kit with great empathy and finesse. Cohen himself is a showman, who communicates great enthusiasm and joy in his own compositions, clearly shared by the majority of the audience.

Shai Maestro
Photo credit: John Watson/

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