Steve Cohn: Iro Iro (2008)
Pianist Steve Cohn and his cohorts here avoid every cliché in the book in pursuit of music which even at the end of the program seems as elusive as it was at the beginning. This is no bad thing as it arguably sums up in essence the very nature of improvised music that seeks to avoid the obvious.
Such an assertion might smack of hyperbole, but the fact is that the music by turns documents the coming together of four individuals whilst by others it discloses a group aesthetic with an eye for the ages as well as the moment. So that when Masahiko Kono exploits the burlesque qualities of his trombone on "Konnichiwa," it has the effect of putting the music in a worldly setting which is often simply not present here.
Despite, or perhaps because of this, the rest of the group seems to coalesce around his lines and the music assumes a momentum it often lacks.
That's thanks in no small part to the fact that this is a group of risk takers. In his solo intro to "Oyasuminasai," Cohn hints at ditzy little melodies but does no more than tease with such possibilities. Kevin Norton the colorist is soon with him and there is a dialog of gesture as much as assertion. Cohn hints also at Cecil Taylor's habitually extraordinary use of fractured lines, but again the needs of the moment prevail in terms of the light and shade the music evokes.
Cellist Tomas Ulrich might not have been serving the role of surrogate bassist but here his articulation and speed of execution has that effect even whilst the music's a matter of simultaneous lines coalescing only to spring apart, as if it's the product of some transitory but collective euphoria.
The quite arid nature of the soundscaping here ensures that when Norton switches to vibes for "Kombawa" it has the effect of an abrupt sea change. Here the overall coloring is of a bright hue, with Kono pursuing a course of understatement even in the face of his colleagues' activity.
Track Listing: Ohio; Konnichiwa; Kombawa; Oyasuminasai.
Personnel: Masahiko Kono: trombone; Steve Cohn: piano, shakuhachi, hichiriki, shofar, ektara, percussion; Tomas Ulrich: cello; Kevin Norton: drums, vibes, percussion.