Avishai Cohen – Big Vicious

This is a remarkable instrumental album. Sometimes jazz releases can be clever-but-unpleasant; this one, though, is an absolute delight, because the band has put melody centre stage, expanded the style to include electronica, and re-invented a classic Massive attack track brilliantly. More music should be like this.

Avishai Cohen (Image by kind permision of Ziv Ravitz)

Israeli trumpeter Cohen has been on my shortlist a few times without reaching ‘reviewed’ status, but this one was unmissable. He begins with a short, but fairly conventional piece in “Honey Fountain” and follow-on track “Hidden Chamber” continues the mellow vibe, both featuring trumpet leads in a Randy Brecker style. Already the straight 4/4 times, subtle electronica and more prominent guitar tell us that this has distinct pop/rock characteristics.

As the album continues, we see more why Cohen is now describing his band as ‘post-jazz.’ “We’re all coming from jazz, but some of us left it earlier,” he says.

I might call it ‘jazz-plus,’ because while it still has the genre’s fluid, instrumental style and more interesting time signatures, he brings in other instruments and styles to broaden the sound. So ‘King Kutner’ co-features Uzi Ramirez’s guitar, which sometimes has a surf tinge on this disc. Sometimes it is rocky, and at others it breaks down, often in unison with the trumpet. (It’s one of the few places where you can feel the band has two drummers). Then the appropriately-named “This Time it’s Different” is a poppy piece hung on a simple, rising synth riff. Cohen himself is credited with “trumpet, effects and synthesizer.” Different again, the one filler track “Fractals” is as bitty as the name suggests.

While this is largely self-composed, there are two covers here. An impressionist take on Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” is like you’ve probably never heard it before: as with many tracks here, Cohen deliberately takes the lead melody line, rather than improvising around it, but he does so against a series of guitar swells that initially disguise the piece’s identity.

The other cover is of Massive Attack’s classic “Teardrop.” Central in the tracklist, this is a real highlight. Again, Cohen takes the melody line – and what a gorgeous one it is – but replaces the original’s fragile beauty with something altogether bolder, while somehow retaining its spirit. He deconstructs it in the middle alongside some effects-drenched stabs of sound and synth bleeps (putting the trip in trip-hop) before returning to it at the end after a slow rhythmic build up by the band, and adding an impassioned climax. Again, the guitar lays a feather bed for the trumpet to play on, this time gently picked with plenty of reverb.

That combination stays for the lovely, summery “The Things You Tell Me,” which deserves more than its delectable three minutes; and the joys continue, like the deliciously wobbly rhythms behind Cohen on “The Cow and the Calf.” But it needs to be heard to be appreciated.

This band is made up of long-time friends and pairs that have worked together before, so the deep trust has worked out in co-writing and a shared vision for this fresh, song-based approach to the music. That is what has created a unique sound here and could well be Cohen’s most accessible and enjoyable release to date. Bring on the sequel!

This entry was posted in Jazz Reviews, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.