Written by Melissa Palleschi – 10th May 2013
As Herbie Hancock recently said in a radio interview in the states, “Jazz is very spiritual and humanistic” and Israeli bassist and composer Avishai Cohen’s music encompasses these principles. With this latest project Avishai Cohen with Strings it seems he wants to span the globe playing songs from his own rich traditional Israeli roots mixed with vocals in Spanish and Ladino. His music has a way of taking you on a journey be it with lyrics or not you leave feeling transported. It is a beautiful experience.
Avishai was joined on stage by his usual trio Nitai Hershkovits on piano and the young but “able” Ofri Nehemya on drums along with Cordelia Hagmann on violin, Amit Landau on viola, Noam Haimovitz Weinschel on viola, Yael Shapira on cello & vocals and Yoram Lachish on oboe/cor anglais/zurna. On Cohen’s opening composition ‘Overture’ he doesn’t even touch the bass until nearly ten minutes into the song. The strings lead the way and he follows suit adding his deep rhythmic sound to the mix. It’s a magnificent way to kick off the first set and is the beginning of what is to come.
Cohen follows his Overture with two Israeli love songs, ‘Kumi Venetze’ written by Rum Da Oz and ‘Nigun Atik’ by Mordechai Zeira/Nathan Alterman, which he arranged and graces with his soothing voice. His singing voice is soulful, resonant and has an incredibly calming effect. He is also accompanied by the multi-talented Yael Shapira who provides much of the harmony throughout the evening. As previously mentioned, Cohen’s group doesn’t stay in just one place on the geographical musical landscape they move from Israeli love songs to the American songbook with Thad Jone’s ‘A Child is Born’ to traditional Jewish-Spanish songs like ‘Puncha Puncha’ all uniquely arranged by Cohen and propelled by his ubber-talented musicians. He closed the first set with a rousing and funky version of an old Russian military song he called a ‘Red Army’ song.
After intermission Cohen and his group continued to cross lands and seas following the first set with a gorgeous Argentinian ‘Alfonsina Y El Mar’ by Ramirez & Luna off his Aurora album. Cohen’s love for the Jewish Spanish traditional Ladino music was evident throughout the night and he performed each song with such passion and soul . He followed this Argentinian song with ‘Morenika’ and then let his drummer Ofri Nehemya have a moment to shine on the track ’13?. At only 19, Nehemya has a sophisticated and sensitive touch on the drums and plays like someone much older than his age. Throughout the evening, I also really enjoyed Yoram Lachish’s improvisations on the oboe which he made sing. Never squeaky or off-putting the intricacies in his playing, only added to the beauty of each piece.
As this performance and group was a bit of a departure from Cohen’s usual trio he finished off the night with multiple encores which included a bass solo rendition of ‘La Cuccaracha’ , another traditional song ‘Il Roco’ played with incredible Spanish rhythms and closing with the gorgeous melodic and melancholy piece ‘Remembering’ and his title track from his album Seven Seas.
The beauty of Cohen’s compositions is in their simplicity. His melodies can sometimes be a syncopated repetition of notes on the piano but they are pieces that develop and soar . This new group which he has formed is exciting and ascends as well. The strings enhance his compositions as well as his arrangements of the more traditional songs he has added to his repertoire. He has taken his rich cultural background and infused it into his own modern jazz stylings creating a sound that is dynamic and ever evolving.
Photo credit: Jana Ketzel