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Avishai Cohen Trio: Shifting Sands

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Avishai Cohen

Every once and a while a recording comes along that is so spectacular that you may want to unabashedly dance to  the music in the street, perhaps even handing out copies of it if you could – certainly recommending it to anyone who wonders why you are dancing so ecstatically. In Shifting Sands Avishai Cohen performs in his most preferred – intimate – setting of the trio. Following his orchestral immersion in his previous album, Two Roses, with the Gothenburg Simphony Orchestra, Mr Cohen crafts this new music also for a newly formed trio – one of the finest he has ever put together [the one with pianist Nitai Hershkovits notwithstanding].

Avishai Cohen Trio: Shifting Sands
Avishai Cohen Trio: Shifting Sands

Time and again, you may have marveled at the virtuosity, the confidence and sureness of Mr Cohen’s playing, combined with the finesse and musicality that he has always displayed. Although you think fleetingly of the great masters of his instrument – Jimmy Blanton, Charles Mingus, Oscar Pettiford, Ray Brown and Scott LaFaro – this is the kind of recorded performance where comparisons cease to matter. But that might also be to shirk one’s reviewerly duty because, in fact, Mr Cohen’s performance puts him smack-dab into that great musical continuum that includes those ancestors.

Balancing the sheer colour and variety – and nuance – of Mr Cohen’s playing, not least in “Intertwined”, the musicians are coaxed into the twisting, downward spiraling bass line melody quoted by the pianist Elchin Shirinov’s left hand entwined like a double-helix, with Mr Cohen’s pizzicato lines. The pianist’s vividly evocative right hand forms another skein drawing in drummer Roni Kapsi into the web of a musical melee. Elsewhere Phrygian modes and shimmering desert motifs adorn the languid loping lines of “Dvash”, which develop in elliptical arcs to the rhythmic pulse of a caravan in the desert.

The bowed intro of “Cha Cha” is absolutely magical. The melodic lines are evocative of Mr Cohen’s cultural topography, traversing the music of Sephardi, folkloric Yemenite, Judeo-Greek-Turkish and North African modes. Furthermore, on “Hitragut” Mr Cohen delivers one of the most lyrical serenades through the strophic verses, sculpting the words of Psalm 147 into each line, as he – together with the idiomatic performances of the other members of his trio – make the musical notes leap off the page. This disc is, quite simply, one to die for.

Avishai Cohen Trio with [at left] pianist Elcnin Shirinov and [at right] drummer Roni Kapsi
Avishai Cohen Trio with [at left] pianist Elchin Shirinov and [at right] drummer Roni Kaspi

Tracks – 1: Intertwined; 2: The Window; 3: Dvash; 4: Joy; 5: Below; 6: Shifting Sands; 7: Cha Cha Rom; 8: Hitragut; 9: Video Game; 10: Kinder Block

Musicians – Avishai Cohen: contrabass; Elchin Shirinov: piano; Roni Kaspi: drums

Released – 2022
Label – Naïve/Believe [M7594]
Runtime – 51:11

Avishai Cohen Trio – “Cha Cha Rom” @ Jazz à Vienne 2021

Featured photo of Avishai Cohen by Ori Sali

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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Featured Albums

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

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Roberto Jr. Vizcaino, Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaino Guillot - Photo Nayeli Mejia
Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Adrien Brandeis, Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot - Photo: Nayeli Mejia.

Listening to the music of Siempre Más Allá, it certainly seems that the young French pianist, Adrien Brandeis has strengthened the belief that he is a proverbial citizen of the Afro-Caribbean universe. To be clear Mr Brandeis still loves all music and swings as hard as any pianist who loves Black American Music – that is, music that you can sing and dance to. But also continues to be beguiled by the rolling thunder of Afro-Caribbean music. The wild call of the rhythms and the joie de vivre of the questing melodies and harmonies not only appeal to his ear, but also speak to him in the hidden parts of his heart.

By his own admission Siempre Más Allá took root during three tours to Mexico undertaken under the aegis of the Fédération des Alliances Françaises du Mexique. The virtually all-Afro-Cuban repertoire of the album radiates charm at every turn. These disarmingly natural and eloquent performances bring out the music’s inherent drama and penchant for tumbao with a deft touch while indulging Brandeis’ lyrical instincts to the full. Meticulously balanced, the four quartet pieces, the trio and duo pieces feel as if they are chamber works. Brandeis’ astonishingly insightful playing is musically captivating and technically blemishless. Each phrase rings so completely true that one can’t imagine the music played any other way.

Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá
Adrien Brandeis: Siempre Más Allá

The album features Mr Brandeis and a group of very accomplished musicians. These include the celebrated Cuban percussionist Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot [on two tracks] and his son Roberto Vizcaíno Jr., Mexican drummer José Loria Triay make up the wall of percussion. The Brasilian bassist Giliard Lopes brings his distinctive veritas to the whole rhythm section. The big surprise here is, perhaps, the presence of the great Cuban Horacio “El Negro” Hernández sitting in the drum chair on La buena vibra.

Siempre Más Allá is an affirmation of Brandeis’ enduring love and natural affinity for Latin music. Not surprisingly the music seems to echo the famous Latin American phrase: “¡Que rico bailo yo!” [which, in English, exclaims: “How well I dance!”]. This is no hyperbole as the music – in its pulses and rhythms show as Brandeis traverses the rhythmic topography of the Caribbean and Latin America. Along the way Brandeis plunged into the world of changüí, the chacarera, Brasilian gaucho music and the ancient melodic thunder of bàtá drums.

From the get-go listeners will find themselves immersed in quite another world of rippling percussive grooves. The track Ek Bakam, for instance, conjures the intricate architecture; the line and flow of an epic Mayan civilisation located in the Yucatan. Narratives from the Latin world abound – often paying homage to famous traditional musicians. Pancho’s Power is one such chart inspired by the vivid world of the legendary trio Los Panchos. Brandeis gives his percussion section a lot of space when he puts the spotlight on them on Tierra de Oportunidades – a wistful memory of the pianist’s three tours to Mexico, which is also incidentally the popular provincial slogan of the Mexican state of Guanajuato. On Huachi-Huachi Brandeis digs deep into the epicurean delights of the only Latin country in North America with this song in praise of a kind of gourmet Mexican fish: the huachinango.

Brandeis then celebrates his association with percussion colourist Roberto Vizcaíno Jr. with the extraordinary music of Vizcaíno Blues, a piece unique with its exploratory chromaticisms and elegant sonorities that beautifully capture the eloquence of the percussionist in whose praise the music is written. Mindful of the fact that Vizcaíno is Cuban but makes his home in Mexico, Brandeis shapes the rhythmic and harmonic palette of the piece accordingly. On La Buena Vibra Brandeis delivers astonishing pianistic fireworks in the piece’s melodic and harmonic lines, played at a frenetic pace, to mirror the style of its dedicatee, Michel Camilo. The pianist demonstrates an authentic home-grown grasp of Cuban music as he reimages Voy a Apagar la Luz, by the legendary and late-singer Armando Manzanero, here adapted as a wistful solo piano work. Meanwhile on the dizzying ride of Humpty Dumpty the pianist pays homage to another idol: Chick Corea, by revisiting the sparkling composition of the recently-deceased piano maestro.

It is hard not to be mesmerised by this spirited and finely nuanced music artfully crafted in an album by Adrien Brandeis, a pianist who is about to take the world by storm with a recording that is going to be one of the finest by any musician located outside the Latin American sub-continent.

Deo gratis…

Tracks – 1: Huachi Huachi; 2: Alegría; 3: Pancho’s Power; 4: Ek balam; 5: Un peu d’espoir; 6: Vizcaíno’s Blues; 7: Tierra de oportunidades; 8: Humpty Dumpty; 9: La buena vibra; 10: Voy a apagar la luz

Musicians – Adrien Brandeis: piano; Giliard Lopes: contrabass; José Loria Triay: drums; Roberto Vizcaíno Jr: congas and bàtá drums. Featuring Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot: percussion [1, 6]; Horacio “El Negro” Hernández: drums [9]

Released – 2022
Label – Mantodea Music Productions
Runtime – 58:25

YouTube Video – Adrien Brandeis – Siempre más allá (EPK)

YouTube Audio – Adrien Brandeis – Vizcaíno’s Blues

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