Avishai Cohen / Yonathan Avishai ‘Playing The Room’ LP/CD (ECM) 4/5

Trumpeter Avishai Cohen and pianist Yonathan Avishai have a shared history of 30 years of musical interaction. “Playing The Room” bears testimony to their long and fruitful musical friendship, going right back to when they began to explore jazz as teenagers in Tel Aviv. They have of course performed regularly together in various settings over the years, but this is their first recording together as a duo. Not surprisingly then, given their musical journeys and kindred spirit, the music performed on this session is intuitive and relaxed, with a clear sense of warmth and joy emanating from the music they perform.

“Playing The Room” begins with tunes composed by the trumpeter and pianist, “The Opening” and “Two Lines”, and concludes with a touching interpretation of Israeli composer Alexander Argov’s cradle song “Shir Eyes”. Along the way, the duo improvise freely, with a soulful sensitivity, on themes from the jazz tradition, from John Coltrane and Duke Ellington, to Abdullah Ibrahim and Ornette Colman. There’s even an enchanting version of Stevie Wonder’s classic “Sir Duke”. The shared ideas and unhurried nature of this music allow the listener to sit back and relax, taking in the atmosphere and ambience, whatever the style of the composition. “Since I’m playing Avishai’s music in his quartet which is a whole journey in itself and since I have my trio as a context for my ideas, neither of us felt that the duo recording should primarily be about us as writers”, says Jonathan Avishai. “We each brought along one tune and these were the first things recorded. After that, the sequence of pieces is fairly close to the order in which we played the music in Lugano and it has to do with energies that we really like, and composer’s we like, in jazz and other idioms.”

One of the things that makes this album so enjoyable is the sense of freedom and consummate ease with which both musicians perform. I would imagine that when musicians are so at ease with one another, with nothing to prove, they can simply enjoy the shared experience and allow their playing to speak for itself. This certainly appears to be the case here, with a natural love for the music they are performing coming across as genuine and sincere. There is, however, also a keen sense of playfulness that gives the proceedings a lovely lilt, with the duo obviously enjoying the intuitive, improvised interaction. The duo makes excellent use of the recording space, the Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI in Lugano, with its resonant and acoustic properties adding to the intimacy and focus of the recording. “Playing The Room” is a lovely album, with both musicians on top form.

Mike Gates