Avishai Cohen / Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra ‘Two Roses’ 2LP/CD (naïve / Believe) 4/5

‘Many musicians dream of making a record with a symphony orchestra, but few can afford to make it a reality’. When I read this statement on Cohen’s website regarding this new release I must admit my initial reaction was one of scepticism, however, this scepticism was tempered with curiosity. Would a meeting of a jazz trio and symphony orchestra be an inspirational move or a thorny car crash? Two Roses is a collaboration between Cohen’s trio and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, the trio features Azerbaijani pianist Elchin Shirinov and New Jersey drummer Mark Guiliana and of course Israeli bassist and composer Cohen himself on both acoustic and electric instruments as well as vocals and Minimoog. Most of the songs are Cohen originals apart from a reinterpretation of Thad Jones’ ‘A Child is Born’ and Eben Ahbez’s ‘Nature Boy’. Some of the other tunes are orchestral interpretations of songs that Cohen has honed over the years.

Avishai Cohen describes himself as a ‘citizen of the world’. I wasn’t exactly sure what that means, a quick Google and I’m informed it’s a person who is at home in any country or the idea that identity transcends political borders. This makes a lot of sense in the context of the music on this record and its cross border flavours. Swedish, Israeli, Azerbaijani and New Jersey musicians with Latin jazz, Afro Caribbean, reggae, Ladino and Sephardic musical influences and it’s all beginning to add up. However, I could still do with a few more clues to help my understanding of this album.

In a promotional interview on Cohen’s YouTube channel his stated influences of ‘everywhere and everything’ didn’t help me too much in finding the centre of his music. In a later, more forthcoming answer he says he was raised on classical music. As far as jazz goes, his favourite artist is Monk, someone who he describes as being ‘most himself’. In the bass player’s hall of fame, it’s Jaco Pastorious who ticks all Cohen’s boxes. Surely this is one of his more obvious influences, not so much on this album but it’s certainly apparent on earlier albums like Continuo from 2006.

What’s not immediately obvious from listening to this record and I say that as someone new to his music is what a sensuous player Cohen is. Watching a video of his tune ‘Remembering’ on YouTube this becomes evident in the way he caresses, embraces and articulates his movements around the bass. Watching this really brought his music to life for me. Incidentally, that tune has 27k likes on YouTube, how many jazz musicians can muster that level of support?

‘Almah Sleeping’ is the album’s expansive orchestral opening piece. The scope and symphonic scale is ambitious, its sweeping gestures and quieter passages are very cinematic. ‘When I’m Falling’ follows, though different in tone it flows beautifully from the opening track, a catchy vocal piece, subtle orchestration and a nicely placed marimba characterize the piece. The title track, ‘Two Roses’ fuses Latin and Middle Eastern flavours with the most jazz-like piano on the album. Guiliana‘s drums are prominent as is the vocal but so much else is thrown in too. It’s extravagantly over the top but somehow works miraculously well. Another triumph is ‘Alon Basela’ its simple introduction of vocal and bass soon builds to a crescendo as Guiliana‘s powerful drumming slogs it out with the orchestra.

I think it’s safe to describe this collaboration between trio and orchestra as masterful, Cohen has pulled it off in a spectacular fashion.

James Read