Maybe it’s because he’s a strings player, but the Israeli bassist, singer and composer Avishai Cohen revealed on this UK premiere how fine-tuned he is to what chamber players do best – in contrast to those jazz musicians who write for classical strings as if they just needed the usual riffs, but played on softer instruments. Cohen, the former Chick Corea double-bassist who took off as a composer at the end of the 90s, has boldly merged his own jazz trio with a bespoke chamber group comprising one violin, two violas, a cello and an improvising oboist and cor anglais player in the versatile Yoram Lachish.
Cohen’s materials are the Hebrew folksongs and poetry he heard as a child in Israel, the Judaeo-Spanish Ladino songs of the Sephardic tradition, classical music and jazz. Within the first 20 minutes, the band had moved from a graceful, elegantly harmonised classical opening to a poignant Hebrew song (Cohen has an expressively light, ardent voice), to the jazz ballad A Child Is Born for Lachish (soloing like a mellower-toned soprano saxist) and the accomplished young jazz pianist Nitai Hershkovits. A Red Army theme started off dolorously stamping, before being playfully twisted by Cohen’s funky polyphonic parts for strings, woodwind and his own incisive bassline.
In the second half, climbing pizzicato lines throbbed under a Hebrew vocal, and the leader’s Song for My Brother set viola motifs against Yael Shapira’s pulsing cello, before a thunderous double-bass improv. The jazzy Thirteen was a hip-hop-inspired rhythm game for Hershkovits, Cohen and drummer Ofri Nehemya, while Cohen’s dazzling solo-bass encores embraced La Cucaracha, bebop and salsa grooves.
It was crossover and then some, and Cohen looks like he’s going a long way with it
By John Fordham
8th May 2013 – Barbican, London, UK