‘Performance Reviewed’

‘Avishai Cohen with Strings’

Written by AK


Israeli instrumentalist, singer, composer and arranger, Avishai Cohen has been regarded for some time as one of today’s leading bassists. Playing in Whitechapel in 2011 and again the following year at Ronnie Scotts, the Barbican Hall hosted his biggest solo concert in London this week (7 May). This time, however, it was not just the venue that was bigger; the numbers of musicians was greater too. Whereas up to now Cohen has performed in a trio, this performance introduced his exciting current project, With Strings.

In addition to pianist Nitai Hershkovits and the young and extraordinarily talented drummer Ofri Nehemya he was joined by four string musicians, Yael Shapira (cello), Cordelia Hagmann (violin), Amit Landau (viola), Noam Haimovitz (viola) and oboist Yoram Lachish. These additions gave even the most recognisable compositions a very different texture. Hinting at classical chamber music on top of his signature mélange of Jazz, Middle-Eastern and Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) sounds, the performance reiterated the incredible ways in which Cohen continues to push musical boundaries leaving everyone, quite literally, in awe.

Cohen arranged a selection of his songs for the strings from his various past albums including reinterpretations of his favourite composers such as ‘Nigun Atik’ inspired by one of Israel’s founding poets, Nathan Alterman and melodies from Mordechai Ze’ira. He also included the Argentine song ‘Alfonsina Y El Mar’, which he sang as beautifully as ever with, this time, his warm vocals, harmonized subtly by cellist, Yael Shapira.

It is Cohen’s tremendous respect for and allusion to his own heritage and background in Jazz that makes his music so rich, powerful and moving. Furthermore Cohen’s charisma and his incredible interaction with each musician on stage makes this performance come together both musically and visually, becoming an overall fluid and atmospheric experience. Having collaborated with Nitai Hershkovits on his most recent album ‘Duende’, his dynamic rapport with the pianist is certainly the strongest feature of the ensemble. It was also amazing to see just how much Cohen himself was enjoying the evening. From jumping up and down on stage to playing so energetically, treating the bass as though it were an oversized electric guitar – he was certainly in his element.

After the band’s first exit off stage, Cohen re-entered alone taking centre stage as he humorously ‘jazzed-up’ well known tunes in style. Leaving the stage once again, he re-entered, with Hershkovits and Nehemya, to play a couple of songs in a trio including his legendary ‘Remembering’. The string quartet then came back on stage joining the trio and ended the night with their third and final encore of Cohen’s, ‘Seven Seas’ – something everyone had been waiting for. This exhilarating composition was a perfect way to finish the evening.

Avishai Cohen continues to tour With Strings throughout Europe over the rest of May, June and July. If anyone has booked to go away this summer, I highly recommend checking whether you are lucky enough for your destination and dates to match any of his coming performances. If they do, enjoy – I promise you will.

(photo credit: Paul Watts)

Avishai Cohen