Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Avishai Cohen Brings His Pensive, Mysterious Middle Eastern Jazz to Highline Ballroom

Avishai Cohen is on a roll. The Israeli jazz bassist specializes in moody, often haunting compositions which draw equally on Middle Eastern and western classical music as well as jazz. Like another brilliant Israeli jazz bassist, Omer Avital, Cohen has gone deeper into the Middle East lately, although Cohen takes less of the spotlight than Avital typically does, and tends to be more compositionally than improvisationally-inclined. His most recent album, Almah is a blend of Middle Eastern and contemporary classical music and features both oboe and a string quartet. Like Cohen’s two previous efforts, Duende and Aurora, the lineup also includes brilliant third-stream pianist Nitai Hershkovits, who’s joining Cohen along with drummer Daniel Dor for a trio show at Highline Ballroom on June 22 at 8 PM; tix are $30.

Over Cohen’s past three albums, you can see a trajectory unfold and a distinctive, individualistic style continue to evolve. Cohen’s intimate, straightforward, emotionally direct songs without words often take on a Spanish tinge throughout Aurora, which is basically a trio album featuring Shai Maestro on piano with occasional oud from Amos Hoffman and vocalese from Karen Malka. There are plenty of tricky time signatures, generous amounts of rubato, and dynamics galore. Duende, a duo album with Hershkovits, is more rhythmic, swings more and relies more on blues-based tradition rather than the apprehensive chromatics of Aurora – other than the gorgeous theme-and-variations that comprise the former’s opening tracks. Almah has a starkly orchestrated overture, a little minimalist indie classical, austerely rhythmic Arabic melodies, an uneasy lullaby, a couple of bracingly acerbic, chromatically-fueled waltzes, and a bitingly rhythmic, rather ferocious piano feature for Hershkovits that might be its strongest track.

Since Cohen is playing this show with the trio, you can most likely expect lots of stuff from the two older albums and maybe material from even earlier. Settle in, wait for the lights to go down and let the suspense begin.

June 15, 2014 Posted by | jazz, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Edgy Middle Eastern Big Band Jazz from Alon Yavnai

Israeli jazz pianist Alon Yavnai & the NDR Bigband have an understatedly powerful, very smart new album just out, Shri Ahava (Hebrew for “love poem”). He’s playing the cd release show at Birdland this Sunday at 6 (six) PM with a fantastic New York band featuring Paquito D’Rivera and Malika Zarra: if you’re a fan of Gil Evans, or Middle Eastern jazz innovators like Gilad Atzmon or Amir ElSaffar, this is a show you shouldn’t miss.

The album’s most striking track is titled Travel Notes. Yavnai has a long history with D’Rivera, so it’s no surprise that he’d be as fond of melodies and beats from south of the border as he is of the many traditions from his own part of the world. This one takes a bouncy Peruvian festejo groove and works a mighty series of shifting motifs from the orchestra to a biting, Arabic-tinged interlude where the piano mimics an oud. From there they works variations on the theme through rapidfire solos by trumpeter Ingolf Burkhardt and clarinetist Lutz Buchner to a fiery, practically stampeding conclusion. It’s a major moment in recent big band jazz.

Two other equally intriguing tracks are both pastorales that unexpectedly and vividly go noir. Au Castagney is a cinematic epic that leaps from comfortable cinematic ambience to become a spy story set in wine country, with deliciously creepy solos by Yavnai and guitarist Sandra Hempel, who mines some luridly terse Marc Ribot-style tonalities. Then there’s Ilha B’Nit (Beautiful Island), a homage to Cape Verdean music that shifts from lush exchanges of washes carried by two or three voices, to stormier, more rhythmic intensity that brings in some unexpected funk before going out with a darkly memorable bluster.

Bitter Roots is a hybrid Afro-Cuban/Egyptian groove that grows from increasingly agitated cadenzas over a one-chord jam to a series of hypnotic circular riffs. Zriha (Sunrise) builds from bright, optimistic atmospherics to an unexpected wariness calmed by a Frank Delle baritone sax solo, rising matter-of-factly to a clever false ending. The opening, title track juxtaposes pensive solo piano passages with sweeping, majestic charts set to an insistent bossa pulse; the album ends with a requiem for Yavnai’s friend, the late drummer Take Toriyama, brooding solo piano giving way to an exchange of voices that slowly introduce warmer, more comforting variations. Jazz doesn’t get as accessible yet as cutting-edge as this very often.

March 21, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Haunting and Ecstatic Global Sounds from Gilad Atzmon

Reedman/multi-instrumentalist Gilad Atzmon’s chutzpah is consistent throughout both his music and his politics. His band the Orient House Ensemble takes its name from Yasir Arafat’s old digs (Atzmon is Israeli-British; his politics are progressive, i.e. supportive of the Palestinian people). Innovatively and often hauntingly blending elements of Middle Eastern, Balkan and klezmer music along with jazz, his latest album (which came out in the UK last fall) is characteristically eclectic. Here Atzmon plays alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet and accordion, along with Frank Harrison on piano, Wurlitzer and xylophone; Yaron Stavi on bass; Eddie Hick on drums, and Tali Atzmon providing atmospheric vocalese on many of the songs.

They bookend the album with a playful, carnivalesque waltz and then an oompah dance for a Sergeant Pepper feel, a considerably blithe contrast with the intensity between intro and outro. The expansive title track sets bracing, Balkan-tinged sax over suspenseful piano that grows more otherworldly as Atzmon heads for the stratosphere. There are two gorgeous, bitter, low-key laments here, the first of them winding up unexpectedly on a more optimistic, nocturnal note. A jazzy take on Ravel’s Bolero has Atzmon staying pretty close to the page over a hypnotic, almost trip-hop rhythm; the most memorable number here is the vivid, cinematic London to Gaza. Opening as a judicious, wary mood piece, Atzmon introduces a bright muezzin call followed by Harrison’s darkly tinged, modal jazz waltz and finally a crazed sax crescendo followed by more bustling piano urbanity. Likewise, In the Back of a Yellow Cab traces a long ride, possibly through an Israel of the mind, a slow slinky groove followed by a pair of animatedly orchestrated sax conversations and a more conspiratorial one between the bass and piano. They follow with All the Way to Montenegro, a jolly clarinet dance that breaks down to a long, suspenseful clarinet taqsim before winding up on an ecstatic note. Many moods, many styles, often very gripping. The album is out now on World Village Music.

March 24, 2011 Posted by | jazz, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tamir Hendelman’s New Album Packs a Punch

Tamir Hendelman is the pianist in the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. His hard-hitting, intense new album Destinations firmly establishes him as a force to be reckoned with as one of this era’s cutting-edge jazz piano stars: Vijay Iyer, Gerald Clayton, Dred Scott and Marc Cary. Like Clayton, he can go deep into the blues; like Scott, he sometimes exhibits a vivid late-Romantic streak, but his style is ultimately his own. Marco Panascia plays bass here, a terse and frequently incisive presence, with the reliably stellar Lewis Nash on drums.

The opening track, Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams gets an inspired, no-nonsense, purist bluesy treatment. Passarim, by Antonio Carlos Jobim begins as a tight, spring-loaded ballad that picks up and takes on increasing shades of irony and grit, with some marvelous interplay between insistent bass and piano shadowing it about four minutes in. Fletcher Henderson’s Soft Winds has Hendelman scouting around aggressively for a comfort zone, eventually launching into a purposeful swing on the second verse, with an equally purposeful, to-the-point conversation between Panascia and Nash following. A radical reworking of Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin takes on an insistent rippling intensity: the band grab it by its tail and swing it around a little – and then they take it to Brazil. Keith Jarrett’s My Song quickly shifts from its lullaby intro to the tightly wound precision of the second track, a vibe they maintain on their expansively Oscar Peterson-inflected cover of You Stepped Out of a Dream, Panascia getting to cut loose a little and bounce some horn voicings around.

Auspiciously, the two strongest performances here are both originals: the brooding, Brubeck-esque Israeli Waltz, and the haunting, elegaic Babushka, both of which pick up with a clenched-teeth resolve. There’s also a brisk and satisfying version of Bird’s Anthropology; On the Street Where You Live, which takes on not a wee hours vibe but a happy hour swing; Makoto Ozone’s BQE, a well-chosen springboard for both Hendelman’s blues and Romantic sensibilities; and a lyrical version of Fred Hersch’s Valentine, which begs the question of which came first, Paul McCartney’s Blackbird or this? It’s just out on Resonance Records.

August 20, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment