Avishai Cohen ‘1970’ LP/CD/DIG (Sony Music) 4/5

With this last album, the world-renowned bass player Avishai Cohen departs from his usual stellar jazz recordings and offers us a groovy and mellow compilation of original and traditional songs, inspired by music of the 1970s. It is not the first time Avishai Cohen enchants listeners with his vocal talent but this album is entirely vocal and thus, very different from his previous releases. It is a concise album with an array of soundscapes and influences (pop, soul, African, Yemenite etc) that appeal to a wide audience. The various tempos ebb in and out, all interlaced in a musical continuum and yet, unified by Avishai Cohen’s acoustic balladry.

Avishai Cohen was particular in his choice of musicians. There is no doubt that having Tal Kohavi on drums, Yael Shapira on cello and Jonatan Daskal on keyboard play an important part in shaping the album, both emotionally and musically. And of course, the delightful Karen Malka, with whom he had performed before, provides excellent back vocals. She has a deep and colourful range and there could not have been a better match for Avishai Cohen’s own voice and exploding spirit. Percussionist Itamar Doari, who is a regular in Avishai Cohen’s entourage, and Elyasaf Bishari on oud, add that Oriental tinge which is so dear to the bass player. While he is honing his vocal talent on the album, he clearly demonstrates what a universal, all-encompassing musician he is, how he can take any musical genre and make it his own.

With a strong feminine imagery throughout the album, its recurring theme is that of lost love and hope. All songs are intimate and listeners are given a window into Cohen’s world, and are undoubtedly moved by it. For a moment, we almost forget the iconic jazz bass player and, through the lyrics, the rhythms and his musicality, he becomes even more human. We recognize and empathize with the feelings he expresses and the hurt he sings about. He sings both in English and Hebrew. He sings with transparency and his voice is resonant and warm. It is so modulated — deep and languorous, at times serene, sometimes sad, but forever eloquent.

The album opens up with the groovy ‘Song of Hope’, which is a plea for unity and, given that it is the lead track, clearly shows how the bass player cares and craves for a better world. Politics aside, the song still seems to come at the perfect time, given the ongoing state of affairs in the world. Another electrifying moment is delivered with ‘My Lady’, which is an upbeat love declaration, devoid of any soppiness, and which quickly evolves into a catchy tune.

‘Sei Yona’ and ‘D’ror Yikra’ are traditional songs which reveal Avishai Cohen’s deep connection to the Eastern heritage so present in Israeli jazz musicians. ‘Sei Yona’ is a Jewish Yemenite tune, which has been sung in countless ways. Here, Avishai gives it a hopeful, upbeat, happy rhythm while ‘D’ror Yikra’ sounds almost liturgical. Avishai’s raspy voice on the latter is beautiful, while the combination of the oud, cello and percussion lend it a hypnotic drive that is so alluring.

‘Motherless Child’ is one of Cohen’s most popular tunes of late. The lyrics are not particularly recherché and I feel the whole song relies entirely on the spirited groove, which unfolds like a kaleidoscope. Karen Malka’s back vocals are magnetic and it is a pity that they last for only such a short time.

On the other hand, I am particularly fond of ‘It’s Been So Long’. I like how the tune unravels its simple and yet touching lyrics and, once again, Karen Malka’s deep back vocals. ‘For No One’ is another one that tickles my sensitivity. I actually prefer it to the original McCartney song. Both the lyrics and the melody speak for themselves and Avishai Cohen’s rendition is even more soothing than the original. His soft-spoken voice and singing, combined with the piano, display pure emotion and vulnerability.

‘Vamonos Pa’l Monte’ is slightly different from the rest of the album. It definitely has the upbeat tempo of most South American popular songs. Listeners are offered some great cello and oud performance, which add a different angle to the song.

All in all ‘1970’ is a warm and earnest album, with a throng of rich tones and groovy melodies. Once again, Avishai Cohen nailed it.

Nathalie Freson