Israeli born, but Paris resident pianist Yonathan Avishai is perhaps better known for his sideman duties in the UK and featured on the trumpeter Avishai Cohen’s 2016 ECM recording, ‘Into The Silence’. A follow-on tour that accompanied the release allowed a British audience to hear for the first time the pianist who, while restricted in his own avowedly minimalist soloing, nonetheless served as an effective musical director to the group. This debut solo album for ECM is not his first trio recording since, in 2015, he brought out ‘Modern Times Trio’. As a general observation, one could argue that Avishai the pianist is influenced by disparate genres, including Romantic classical composers and, from a jazz perspective, the music of Abdullah Ibrahim, and, moreover, loves tinkering around in between them, yet the end result is still a cohesive whole.
The music commences with a delicious reworking of Ellington’s ‘Mood Indigo’, and the stretching out of notes in the first part means that it is a full three minutes before the main theme is stated and this is indeed a fresh interpretation of what has now become a well-worn standard. However, Avishai is not simply content to deconstruct a single piece, but extends that motivation to an entire genre. A case in point is the thrilling ‘Tango’, which was initially inspired by hearing Argentine bandoneon player, Dino Saluzzi and Anja Lechner performing together on ‘Ojos Negros’. What comes across is how the piano itself is performed like a bandoneon before a piano riff leads in to an extended passage of soloing. There is nothing overtly flashy about Avishai’s style, but the simplicity of operation makes for a clever re-inventing of the tango all the same. This writer especially warmed to a truly uplifting piece, ‘Joy’, and here there is a quasi-nursery rhyme approach to the piano playing, with subtle embellishments just below the surface. The album ends on a high with the longest number at six and half minutes and a percussive one at that, ‘Les Pianos de Brazzaville’, complete with rolling drums and a melodious piano riff, and then a complete change of mood ensues with an interesting duet between piano and rim-drum riffs by drummer Donald Kontamanou, while double bassist Yoni Zelnick is that most empathetic of accompanists throughout. A memorable and enjoyable listening experience.