Ryan Cohan: One Sky (2008)
In 2005, Ryan Cohan received a grant from Chamber Music America to create one long-form composition on a subject of his choosing. One year later, he debuted the piece during a free concert at Skidmore Jazz Institute in Saratoga Springs, New York, where he has been both student and educator. The audience heard a work of stunning scope, color, nuance and energy that night; One Sky captures that lightning in a bottle, and Cohan's liner notes give the listener a good sense of his creative motivation.
In his explanation of One Sky: Tone Poems for Humanity, Cohan quotes the author Abraham Heschel, who wrote "The truth of human being is love of being alive. That quote galvanized Cohan to look at humanity from a musical viewpoint; put simply, Cohan believes we are all "under one sky, and moving forward means finding the commonalities that can link us, not the differences that might divide us. The result of that insight is a five-track, four-movement epic that combines elements of classical music and jazz genres with Cohan's gift for creating musical "novels with chapters within chapters.
The suite begins as an orchestra tuning for a performance, though another way to see it is like the beginning a new day: The sun rises, birds awaken, and our senses gradually come online. The piece coalesces behind Cohan and the rhythm section, with Cohan playing muscular piano and the front line acting as narrator and colorist. Since every member of the front line plays multiple instruments, that puts a lot of colors at Cohan's disposal; his Mingus-like ability to make a septet sound like an orchestra serves him well, both with the suite and with the four other group tracks.
Bob Sheppard played on Cohan's 2002 Sirocco Jazz release Here and Now, and the partnership obviously agrees with both players. Sheppard's soprano sax on "Into Being is hot as a pistol, and shifts Cohan into an even higher gear. Sheppard's flute work brings a soaring quality to "Wonder and Response and "Hope, with Geof Bradfield's reeds and Tito Carillo's flugelhorn adding texture to Sheppard's solo on "Wonder.
Texture is Bradfield's forte. Although his solos on "Wonder and the free-standing "Six Fortunes are terrific, he does his best work on bass clarinet, bringing boundless depth to the overall harmonic. Carillo applies a high, rising trumpet to "Easy for You to Say and the suite movement "Awe, while Kobie Watkins' thunder-capable drums anchor a rhythm section that rolls with the myriad changes found in every Cohan composition.
Even on his own, Cohan thinks big: He morphs Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life into a grand piano concerto reminiscent of Debussy's "Clair de Lune. But his enthusiasm for the suite's subject matter show's Cohan is unafraid of tackling big issues as well as big sounds. One Sky not only showcases the talents of a great writer and musician; it also reminds us that we are all in this life togetherand with the right mindset, that can be a good thing.
Track Listing: Double Agent; Easy for You to Say; Six Fortunes; Checkmate; Lush Life; One Sky: Tone Poem for Humanity (Into Being, Part One; Into Being, Part Two; Wonder and Response; Awe; Hope).
Personnel: Ryan Cohan: piano; Bob Sheppard: soprano sax, tenor sax, flute, alto flute; Geof Bradfield: soprano sax, bass clarinet, tenor sax; Tito Carillo: trumpet, flugelhorn; Kobie Watkins: drums; James Cammack: acoustic bass (1-4); Lorin Cohen: acoustic bass (6-10); Jean-Christophe Leroy: congas (1, 3); Ruben Alvarez: shekere (3).