On a lyrical new CD, trumpeter Avishai Cohen contemplates loss
There’s a telling moment from trumpeter Avishai Cohen on Mark Turner’s 2014 ECM release, “Lathe of Heaven.” The album, as the title would imply, has a generally serene mien. In one piece, “Year of the Rabbit,” Cohen is going with that flow, soloing with long tones and lots of space, when suddenly a double-time figure comes bubbling out of his horn, ascending like a profound realization.
Cohen and tenor saxophonist Turner, who’d played together off and on for years in SFJazz Collective and other projects, are like two halves of the same personality on that album, finishing each other’s musical sentences. “Lathe of Heaven” led to Cohen’s own ECM debut as a leader, “Into the Silence,” which was released in February. Cohen comes to the Regattabar in support of that album on April 28, with a band that will include pianist Jason Lindner, bassist Tal Mashiach, and drummer Justin Brown.
That moment on Turner’s album revealed Cohen as a musician who can submerge himself in a deep meditative space while maintaining a sure grasp of his musical surroundings. Jazz hinges on improvisation, but those improvisations are often filled with internalized licks and rehearsed calculations. Cohen is the real deal: His spontaneous insights deliver surprise after surprise, even as they flow from mindful deliberation of the task at hand.
Reached for comment, Turner praises Cohen as “a very natural musician . . . music flows through him very naturally.” He cites Cohen’s “heightened sense of attention to detail” as well as to the bigger aesthetic questions: “What does the music mean? What’s my position [in it]?”
Cohen, 37, is Israeli, the younger brother of reed-playing siblings Yuval and Anat. All went to Berklee, and Anat has become a touring star in her own right. Together, the siblings perform as 3 Cohens. Before the ECM release, Avishai released seven albums as a leader on Anat’s New York-based label, Anzic. These days, with two small children, he’s based in Tel Aviv.
Besides his stellar trumpet work — imaginative, lyrical lines, lapidary articulation, and a broad, wave-like vibrato he can turn on and off — Cohen is a compelling writer. Generally, his compositions split the difference between Charles Mingus’s bluesy mix of brain and brawn and Don Cherry’s world-music lyricism. (He’s covered both artists on record, and one of his standout pieces is “With the Soul of the Greatest of Them All,” for Mingus.)
“Into the Silence,” as the title would imply, indulges Cohen’s more meditative side. He wrote the album following the death of his father. In effect, it’s one long elegy; the first tune and epilogue are titled “Life and Death.”
In Triveni, his ongoing trio project, Cohen favors concise song forms — the trio has even covered the Frank Foster chestnut “Shiny Stockings.” But “Into the Silence” shows his taste for episodic narrative in long forms. The title tune introduces a secondary theme, almost like a new song, as a tag in its closing two minutes. On the 15-minute “Dream Like a Child,” following a brief opening statement by Cohen with the rhythm section (pianist Yonathan Avishai, bassist Eric Revis, drummer Nasheet Waits), the trumpeter doesn’t return for a good seven minutes — this time with saxophonist Bill McHenry
On Skype from Tel Aviv, Cohen says he originally had an opening written for the unison horns, but then realized he was only bowing to convention. “I thought, you know what? The music is well represented without me.”
Rather than being tight tunes, the pieces tend to hang on simple vamps, repeated phrases, harmonic motion. Cohen recalls playing “Dream Like a Child” for his brother before going into the studio. “He said, ‘Hmmm, there’s no real melody.’ And I said, I know, and I’m usually a very melodic-oriented guy . . . . In a way, there’s a lot of this kind of absence in the music, because I was dealing with a very specific absence.”
The power of silence, what’s left unsaid, recalls another minimalist jazz master, Miles Davis. This also happens to be Cohen’s most Miles-like playing — the Harmon mute on “Life and Death,” the bends and dips in his phrasing, the music’s overall modal drift. That ambience is helped along by Cohen’s relationship with pianist Avishai, whom he’s played with since they were both 12. The intimacy of their playing recalls the relationship between Miles and pianist Bill Evans.
“I knew Yonathan had to be there with me,” says Cohen, who as often as not works without a pianist. “We are so connected. I knew I wouldn’t have to say much to get what I’m trying to say.”
At Regattabar, Cambridge, April 28 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $25, students $20. 617-395-7757, www.regattabarjazz.com