Avishai Cohen: As Is
“ I received everything that I could ever want to get from a musician -- to play good music. ”
Avishai Cohen is the sound of a new generation of bass prodigies, and his talent is a force to be reckoned with in the world of jazz. The New Yorker has affirmed him to be "one of the most gifted bassists of his generation who is finding his own voice as a composer. His vision knows no boundaries and is ever-expanding exponentially. Down Beat Magazine has identified him as "a musician who is a jazz visionary of global proportions. He has been voted as one of the greatest bass players of the 20th century and is highly respected among his peers. Chick Corea has labeled him as genius for his work.
His sound is pure and innovative; his ensemble continually exudes inspired improvisational ingenuity, as evidenced by his numerous live performances and recordings. His compositions speak to the heart of his western and eastern influences; and as Jazziz has declared of Cohen: "There is no way to reduce bassist Avishai Cohen's music into tidy categories. Seamlessly blending Middle Eastern, folk, funk, fusion, and straight-ahead jazz often on the same song, Cohen has fashioned a singular vision, and it's a joy to experience. One such experience was documented on film by way of his CD/DVD release, As Is (Razdaz Records, 2007). Although currently on tour, Katrina-Kasey Wheeler caught up with Avishai Cohen during one of his free moments.
All About Jazz: How did you become interested in the bass, since you started off as a pianist?
Avishai Cohen: In my teens, I started off listening to a lot of English rock and 70's rock, and that kind of awoke a space within me. I started thinking that playing the electric bass would be cool. I still have no idea why I am playing the bass. I just know that at that point in my life it was something that I wanted to try.
AAJ: I would say that it is definitely a higher calling. Who then was the biggest influence on you back then?
AC: Jaco Pastorius.
AAJ: What have you discovered from his legacy?
AC: I have learned many things, but more important than anything else, I have inheritedor better said, soakedan incredible talent from a spiritual person that created some of the most passionate and interesting music of the century. I received everything that I could ever want to get from a musicianto play good music.
AAJ: Is there much of a jazz scene in Israel? How does it compare to that of the United States? Obviously it would be on a smaller scale.
AC: Jazz is popular for what it is. It used to be much less popular; not as many people knew about it, and there weren't as many fans. There is definitely a thing going on, but it is still very small. I can tell you, it is a place that has one of the highest percentages of incredibly talented musicians that I have ever known, for whatever reason.
AAJ: I can imagine it certainly must be. So then, likewise, does jazz education also differ in Israel when compared to a country like the United States? Are there different avenues in regard to jazz education?
AC: In jazz, the best thing is always to go and hear the best players. There is a little more of that than there used to be, but in terms of studying, there is a school that has good teachers. Of course being that it is Israel everything is smaller, but there are still more opportunities to pursue music than there were twenty years ago. There have been huge developments.
AAJ: That is wonderful to hear, comparatively speaking, since in the United States there are continually so many budget cuts, and music programs are always the first to be cut. Speaking of wonderful opportunities, you were a founding member of Chick Corea's sextet, Origin. What have you taken away from that experience? What is the greatest thing that you learned through it?
AC: I think just learning how to be a bandleader.
AAJ: Chick Corea has labeled you as a genius. How does it feel to have a luminary refer to you as such?
AC: It is definitely very flattering. I take it as a big compliment and don't try to understand it too much. I see it as gesture from Chick which I appreciate very much. I try not to be fixated on it.
AAJ: You have been labeled by so many entities as one of the greatest bass players of the twentieth century. Bass Player magazine labeled you one of the 100 most influential bass players of the twentieth century.
AC: It is definitely a compliment.
AAJ: It certainly must be. You are considered one of the greatest among your peers. You have said that you see music as something spiritual. Would you elaborate on that?
AC: Yes. I think that music in general is something that has a very high nature. It goes beyond the artist or the people listening to it. It belongs to the environment, and if we are lucky we get a lot of it and it transforms through us and it goes back, almost like a cycle. That is the spiritual side. Music is a very magical thing.
AAJ: Yes, it is both spiritual and personal. When you record your material, how much of it is mapped out, so to speak, versus improvised?
AC: The nature of what I do, this art, always has somewhat of a combination between improvised and written music. I'm a very composed type of person. I compose pieces that then go into an open-or-not section. I try to keep a balance between improvisation and written music. The band is always free to express their emotions.
AAJ: Right, that is really evident, especially when watching As Is (Razdaz Recordz, 2007), your DVD recording of your performance at the Blue Note in New York City. It is a great recording, and you can really see and hear that freedom you mentioned. It captures the camaraderie of the band. Do you prefer to play small venues or larger audiences in arenas? I am sure you can really feed off of the energy of the audience in a smaller venue.
AC: Exactly, you are right about that. There are pros and cons to everything. The Blue Note is great because it is very personal. Whereas a concert hall may not be as personal as a smaller venue, sometimes the larger crowd has a different energy that you don't get sometimes from a smaller crowd.
AAJ: I think you fuse the east and the west very well in your music. You can hear the different influences infused throughout your material. You and your band are really skilled improvisers, and it is intriguing to watch. That is definitely something that people want to see when going to hear live jazz.
In the future when you look back on your body of work, what do you hope to have achieved?
AC: I hope to have achieved success in embracing the music, and embracing people with the music, and being embraced back by the whole situationto feel that I have given communication to the people through my music.
We have currently been touring, and I have been feeling very welcomed by the fans all over the world. It is great to see the music being embraced by the fans, and I want to say thank you to all of them for being part of the whole picture.
Avishai Cohen, As Is (Razdaz Recordz, 2007)
Avishai Cohen, Continuo (Razdaz Recordz, 2006)
Diego Urcola, Viva (Cam Jazz, 2006)
Avishai Cohen, At Home (Razdaz Recordz, 2005)
Malene Mortensen, Date With A Dream (Criss Cross Records, 2005)
Edward Simon, Simplicity (Impulse Records, 2005)
Avishai Cohen, Lyla (Razdaz Recordz, 2004)
Jon Weber, Simple Complex (Second Century Jazz, 2004)
Various Artists, Concord Records SACD Sampler, Vol. 1 (Concord, 2003)
Charene Dawn, Dark Angel (Sirocco Jazz Limited, 2002)
Avi Lebovich, Constant Chase (Fresh New Sound, 2002)
Michael Feinstein, Michael Feinstein With the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (Concord Records, 2001)
Avishai Cohen & The International Vamp Band, Unity (Stretch, 2001)
Chick Corea New Trio, Past Present & Futures (Stretch, 2001)
Chick Corea, Originations (Stretch, 2000)
Various Artists, Jam Miami (Concord Picante Records, 2000)
Jason Lindner, Premonition (Stretch, 2000)
Tim Garland, Made By Walking (Stretch, 2000)
Tony Purrone, Six String Delight (Steeplechase, 2000)
Larry Goldings, Voodoo Dogs (Palmetto Records, 2000)
Claudia Acuna, Wind From the South (Verve Records, 2000)
Seamus Blake, Sunsol (Fresh Sound, 2000)
Chick Corea, Corea.Concerto (Sony, 2000)
Avishai Cohen, Colors (Stretch, 1999)
Avishai Cohen, Devotion (Stretch, 1999)
Photo courtesy of Roberto Cifarelli PhocusAgency