Live review

Avishai Cohen Trio at the Blue Note

Avishai Cohen Trio
(Blue Note, New York, 3 August 2019. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

Avishai Cohen (Publicity photo)

It’s standing room only on a Saturday night at the Blue Note, and the rumour from the barman is that the eight-show series has been sold out for weeks – there’s an excited hubbub waiting amongst the décor from an old jazz era (mirror art, ’70s office suspended ceiling tiles). Avishai Cohen‘s musical style doesn’t really fit that of an old club, but he seems to slip in as part of the scenery, comfortable in a room where he’s played many gigs and produced live recordings. It has been five years since Cohen was last in New York, and even longer since this trio were reunited on tour together; all the fuss is in celebration of their 2008 album Gently Disturbed.

Over a decade later, the interplay between the three is still sharp and detailed. Old crowd-pleasers like Eleven Wives combine legible keys with jumping drums and a pushed rhythmic bass. A definitively two-sided Shai Maestro sits at the grand piano laying looped heads, all developing to a slowly built climax. Cohen stands centre-stage sliding and pulling his notes through a solo, part of a show-long demonstration of him shifting through the double bass’ different gears. Treated as a string instrument meeting resonant percussion, he variably taps out beats on the strings, knocks and slaps the shoulder, and bows and saws at the bridge.

The high energy recursive compositions of Gently Disturbed blow out with Chutzpan, a masterclass in frenzied l switches between different moods and phases. The drums intentionally loosen, a hint of welcome chaos appears, but after all the years they are still cleanly plugged into each other. And this is really the spirit of that album – of intensity amongst the ranks of other dynamic, intricate, urgent bass trios like Phronesis or Gogo Penguin.

However Avishai Cohen has a more varied musical tradition behind him than most, and he is here to share it. The more plaintive Lo Baiom Velo Balyla gives Maestro space and time signatures to play with, while Mark Guiliana demonstrates the possibilities of how precisely, how calmly, how delicately, the drums can be played. I’m grateful for the mikes hovering other him.

The second half of the set brings us forward to the present, playing a brace from Cohen’s very latest June 2019 release, Arvoles. Recorded with a different back line, and the addition of two horns, this is something of an interesting remix. Guiliana is beautifully and uncompromisingly spare on the kit, lending a more ephemeral but effective hint to Face Me; on record it has more present drumming to accompany the middle-eastern doubled head and keys ornamentation, I suspect the result of different hand holding the sticks, or the magic of production. The wired stalking dance between bass and keys on Simonero is instead pushed by percussion, without a flute or trombone.

Avishai Cohen is not interested in providing a running commentary during his gigs, but his few interjections are heart felt – in testimony of his love for and appreciation of his band-mates, and of his excitement at the atmosphere of the gig. And with the sardines packed at the bar making enough noise at the end of the concert, we’re also treated to a rare encore: not a rowdy drum-heavy track from the end of Arvoles; not an intense Gently Disturbed reprise, but instead Remembering from Cohen’s 2007 As is Live… at the Blue Note. His bass slips over a comforting piano progression to produce a delicate thing – essentially a bass and piano duo – built on a familiar sounding While My Guitar Gently Weeps-esque earworm.

Cohen, Guiliana and Maestro are a talented trio, but the real value is in the deep composition and deeper understanding between them. In a short speech between songs, Cohen said it was “Getting Better Every night”. When they first recorded Gently Disturbed, Maestro and Guiliana were just either side of 20. Over ten years later, I’d also be tempted to say that they’re “Getting Better Every Decade”.

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