Avishai Cohen ‘Into The Silence’ 2LP/CD (ECM) 5/5 & 4/5

avishai-cohen“Into the silence” is trumpeter Avishai Cohen’s debut as leader for the ECM label, and what a breathtaking album it is. The six compositions were written by Cohen during the six months that followed his father’s passing in November 2014. During his father’s final few weeks, Cohen listened almost constantly to an album of Rachmaninoff’s solo piano music; “I think the emotional spirit of those preludes, etudes and elegies wound their way inside me” the trumpeter reflects, “I became obsessed with the harmonies of his music, particularly the inner voices. It was inspiring for me.” Yet at the same time Cohen was also also listening a lot to Eric Dolphy’s “Out to lunch” and he adds “Obviously my record doesn’t sound anything like that- but the honesty of Dolphy’s music and the close way his band interacted were on my mind.” And it is the honesty of Cohen’s music that shines through with a clarity and purity of sound that is stunningly beautiful. The trumpeter plays with a very personal, deeply moving tone that is not only touching and soulful, but also free-spirited and open.

The core quartet for this session features Cohen alongside two long-time collaborators: pianist Yonathan Avishai and drummer Nasheet Waits, with bassist Eric Revis, who has been a rhythm section partner for Waits in many bands, completing the foursome. Augmenting Cohen’s quartet on several pieces is tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry, an understated modernist who adds a subtle harmonic depth when playing alongside Cohen. It is quite incredible that this recording marks the first time these musicians ever played together as a collective, but as Cohen points out; “I’ve known Yonathan since I was twelve, sharing music with him in so many ways over the years.” This is something that undoubtedly stands out on the recording; the close relationship between Cohen and Yonathan Avishai, their musical and personal relationship entwining to wonderful effect with an unerring understanding. This stands out above all on the opening track “Life and Death” and the title track “Into the silence”. They share a gift for the understated, an eloquence and grace that is rarely heard. The whole album has a quiet sincerity to it, yet it’s not without a remarkable spirit, at times lyrical and hauntingly melodic. Cohen takes the lead on most of the tracks, and rightly so, playing with a freshness that is enlightening. I cannot think of many musicians that sound so passionate yet softly understated all in one breath. Saxophonist McHenry brings a quiet skill and deft touch, especially on “Behind the broken glass”.

“Into the silence” was recorded in Studios La Buissonne in the South of France and according to the band leader was very relaxed and very cohesive, with recording, mixing and mastering all taking place in three days. Cohen lived with his thoughts and melodies for months leading up to the recording, just in his head or at the piano. Much of the music had never come through his horn until the first takes in the studio; “I played through the tunes with Yonathan at the piano before the session, but it was brand new to everyone else, so everyone’s responses were completely fresh”. The trumpeter adds “We were all discovering the potential of the music as we were playing.” And this to my mind is an important element in the music that the musicians deliver here – there is an intimacy to the whole recording that the listener can almost reach out and touch. It hangs in the air, in the spaces between the notes, in the unspoken thoughts that pass between the performers, in the unwritten poetry that they are making through their music. It is something that can’t quite be defined, something that could so easily be lost if one tried to hold onto it for too long. Luckily for us the spirit of this musical journey is captured beautifully on this recording. A wonderful album.

Mike Gates rating 5/5

Now permanently based in New York, trumpeter Avishai Cohen (not to be confused with his namesake and fellow national who is a bassist and formerly recorded for Blue Note) makes his major label debut for ECM on an all-original series of compositions that breathes new life into the acoustic quintet and takes a major leaf out of both the mid-1960s quintet of Miles Davis and his earlier formation that debuted for Columbia way back in 1955 with ‘Round Midnight’. Avishai Cohen is a rising trumpeter who has, in recent years, been heralded by US critics as a major new talent (he is in fact now thirty-seven years of age) and has won the Downbeat rising trumpeter category for four years in a row. Indeed, Cohen has been a multi-faceted and prodigious operator in the past few years: performing as part of the Triveni trio with Omer Avital, another ‘new kid’ on the block garnering plaudits, and Nasheet Waits; an integral member of the SF Jazz Collective for some six years; and last, but by no means least, part of a family Cohen’s sextet. Initially working as a studio musician with Israeli folk and pop acts, Avshai Cohen’s early career was oriented towards classical music performing with the Israeli Young Philharmonic Orchestra under the tutelage of Zubin Mehta and Kurt Masur. This changed and Cohen gained useful experience with the Mingus Big Band and as part of Kenny Werner’s group. Simultaneously, he pursued a parallel career with French-Israeli pop singer-songwriter, Keren Ann.

If one had to make any kind of parallel, then, given the sheer diversity of formations Cohen operates in and out of, Dave Douglas at the beginning of his career might well serve as a useful comparison. The album is dedicated to the memory of his late father and the compositions were written in the subsequent months of that tragic event. The music as a whole is quite dense and within a given individual piece, the mood changes markedly. A gentle opener in ‘Life and death’ is an explicit reference to his father and immediately creates a nocturnal atmosphere with lyrical muted harmon and sedate piano from Yonathan Avishai who sounds as those he has soaked up the contemplative side of another ECM stable mate, Keith Jarrett. Without ever specifically trying to duplicate the sound, this piece has something of the mid-1950s feel that Miles Davis created with his final recordings for Prestige and the early beginnings for Columbia. It is at once a brave and clear statement of intent. Elsewhere, the music becomes more intense and abstract as on the fifteen and a half minute, ‘Dream like a child’, that features a lengthy opening cymbal crescendo and the rhythm section of pianist and drummer seem to float along with bowing work from double bassist Eric Revis. One of the strongest numbers is ‘Quiessence’ where the pianist plays a melodic riff akin to the sound of a clock and the trumpeter delivers a suitably melancholic solo. This pared down and intimate setting suits the group to perfection and is surely the avenue to follow wholeheartedly. A mournful lament is one way to describe the ballad ‘Behind the broken glass’ and the clarity of tone by the leader is matched by the development of tempo as the piece progresses and goes up several gears. Greatly enhancing the listening pleasure is the warm tone of tenorist Bill McHenry who comes across as a Wayne Shorter acolyte. One minor reservation overall. Some of the extended numbers are overly long, testing the listener’s powers of concentration to the hilt, need truncating slightly and, with time, the compositions will become tighter. Otherwise, this is a musician and formation who are going places fast and observing the journey will be required practice for reviewers and jazz aficionados alike over the next few years.

Tim Stenhouse rating 4/5