No bassist on the contemporary jazz scene is more technically able than Avishai Cohen, nor more immediately recognizable on a recording: his muscular, singing tone and richly melodic lines are unique. He's also got one of the tightest trios on earth, and the countless gigs pianist Sam Barsh and drummer Mark Guiliana have played with Cohen are immediately audible on Continuo.
Cohen's 2005 album At Home suffered from too many disparate styles and too many extra musicians augmenting the trioit felt more like a Cohen compilation than a unified musical statement. There's no lack of stylistic unity on Continuo, however, and only one extra musician is featured here: oud player Amos Hoffman, who appears on five on the ten tracks.
To his credit, Cohen's attempting something altogether new on Continuo: a stylistic blend of western classical, Middle Eastern music (hence the presence of Hoffman's oud), and improvisational jazz. "Nu Nu epitomizes the concept with its stop-on-a-dime time changes, unison bass/piano lines, epic theme and virtuosic soloing (in this case by Cohen and Hoffman). The execution is above reproachhere and everywhere on the CD, the band plays with breathtaking precision.
Somehow, though, the aforementioned musical influences combine here to produce a strange and rather disagreeable hybrid that in its bombastic, grandiose themes resembles nothing so much as the worst sorts of instrumental Europop. This impression is heightened by arrangements that feature Barsh's busy, mock-classical piano, an overuse of pomp-and-circumstance unison bass/piano accents (lots of dramatic, echoing "booms in song after song), and the recording's hot, loud, no-dynamics mastering.
"One For Mark is an up-tempo piece that's flawlessly played and ultimately pretty meaningless; with plenty of oud-strangling from Hoffman over Guiliana's torrential drum cascades and wildly florid piano from Barsh, there's no dearth of sound coming out of the speakers, but it's all more precious than profound. Cohen's solo here has a marvelous rhythmic buoyancy, but it can't save the song. Unfortunately, "One For Mark" is no anomaly; it's perfectly typical of the tunes on Continuo.
"Samuel is somewhat better. Its piano introduction has a practice-book sterility and it's marred by more of those overdramatic bass/piano accents, but Cohen and Barsh are particularly sympathetically fused here and its final snare-roll groove is irresistible. The title trackwhich unfortunately appears lastis by far the best song, fuelled as it is by a propulsive and joyous Middle Eastern rhythmic structure of drums, percussion and hand claps. It's more fun and less self-consciously important than anything that precedes it. The absence of Barsh's piano on the songdespite the enormous, prowling presence here of Cohen's electric six-string Marcogives it a spaciousness that's sadly missing elsewhere.
To their credit, the musicians play every song on Continuo with complete commitment and telepathic connectedness. If the results are gratingly soulless, it's not due to a lack of sincerity on the part of the artists.
Personnel: Avishai Cohen: acoustic and electric bass; Sam Barsh: piano (1-9), electric keyboard (#9);
Mark Guiliana: drums, percussion; Amos Hoffman: oud (1,3,6,9-10).