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Avishai Cohen & Abraham Rodríguez Jr: Iroko

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Avishai Cohen & Abraham Rodríguez Jr. by Makoto Matsuo
Avishai Cohen and Abraham Rodríguez Jr. - Photo credit: Makoto Matsuo

The difference between all Greek and Latin-based languages and ancient African ones is that words have connotations of life or describe beings teeming with life as opposed to the language of anthropologically later civilisations and cultures – and historically later civilisations and culture the language of which came to refer to aspects of life. For instance, in some West African civilisation and culture, where God is in everything that lives and breathes, Iroko is a tree that is feared, where it originates and hence is shunned or revered with offerings.

The Yoruba people believe that the tree is inhabited by a spirit, and anybody who sees the Iroko man face to face becomes insane and quickly dies. According to the Yoruba, any man who cuts down an Iroko tree causes devastating misfortune on themself and all of their families, although if they need to cut down the tree, they can make a prayer afterwards to protect themselves. They also claim that the spirit of the Iroko can be heard in houses which use Iroko wood, as the spirit of the Iroko is trapped in the wood… in the wood of the tumbadora, for instance.

Avishai Cohen & Abraham Rodriguez Jr: Iroko
Avishai Cohen & Abraham Rodriguez Jr: Iroko

This is the wood of the tumbadora that Abraham Rodríguez plays on this recording with the incomparable contrabassist, Avishai Cohen. Remarkably, however, that same spirit – the one personified by the spirit Iroko – lives and guides the wood and in the case of Mr Cohen’s steel spirocore strings of his glorious contrabass. One has only to listen to the opening bars played on Mr Cohen’s contrabass, on The Healer, to discern that no one else but the spirit of Iroko guides the music and vocalastics to fruition.

Through the use in the contemporary works this is the proverbial, and mythological manifestation of magic. However, to those attuned to the mysticism of the ancient world, before the advent of belief systems as we know them today, this is nothing but the spirit-made-musical-flesh; the voice of that tree-sprite Iroko channeled through, spoken, and sung by a tumbadora, a contrabass and two spirits – Mt Cohen’s and Mr Rodríguez’s – as what flows is the music of spirits dancing in the flesh.

To those of us familiar with the work done by the great Brasilians – multi-instrumentalist Egberto Gismonti and percussion colourist Nana Vasconselos there might be a hint of what is going on here, musically speaking. However, the primeval elegance of what is evoked by the Brasilians is magnified by what ensues between Mr Cohen’s bass and Mr Rodríguez’s tumbadora. There is, truth be told, a more ancient rumble at work here. It is as if the spirit of Iroko has been awakened and a message is being broadcast to the New World.

Together – with instrumentation and vocalastics – the vibrant punctuations or percussion and the rumble of the contrabass make the modal dualities come alive as the voices evoke, with a rustic quality to the bouncing vivacity to the music of The Healer, Abie’s Thing and Tintorera. But there is playfulness too, as well as growing a contemporary root from the traditional one, such as in, James’ Brown’s It’s a Man’s World, which also makes the de rigueur connection between the African roots of Mr Brown’s funky latter-day Rhythm and Blues. Yet there is plenty of energy and exuberance while the offering in its conception is something slightly shaggier than [Mr Brown’s] sensually honed leonine one.

To my mind Thunder Drum evokes in all its primordial splendour, the febrile quality of the spirit of Iroko come alive. It offers a masterly vision; in its form and delivery is a vivid sense of its arching architecture married to a simplicity of utterance, dispatched with a sense of complete inevitability. The remainder of the disc is devoted to arrangements – and performance – of music that is eminently suited to the vision and genius of both Mr Cohen and Mr Rodríguez’s brand of musicianship particularly well. And in the end where else but in the timeless Fly Me to The Moon could you, indeed, find such unfettered joy in the hands of Avishai Cohen and Abraham Rodríguez Jr?

Deo gratis…

YouTube Playlist – Avishai Cohen & Abraham Rodriguez Jr.

Music – 1: The Healer; 2: Abie’s Thing; 3: Tintorera; 4: It’s a Man’s World; 5: Descarga para Andy; 6: Avísale a Mi Vecina; 7: Thunder Drum; 8: Exodus; 9: Bailar mi Bomba; 10: Crossroads; 11: Venus; 12: A la Loma de Belen; 13: Fahina; 14: Fly Me to The Moon.

Musicians – Avishai Cohen: contrabass and vocals; Abraham Rodríguez Jr: congas and vocals; Virginia Alves: vocals.

Released – 2023
Label – Naïve [BLV8080] 
Runtime – 45:11

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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