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Avishai Cohen: Trumpet Trio Makes Strong Mark

By Published: April 11, 2011
The new album finds the band exploring a few standards as well. That pretty much happened on-the-spot, and was one of Cohen's goals going into the recording. Prior to starting the trio, he was playing mainly original music in his various projects, a lot of the stuff written and arranged precisely. "I was away from the American songbook, and from swing. It wasn't a main element. I was inspired a lot by West African music, and the music I did was coming from that or inspired by that and swing. But at one point I had a need to play music that has more freedom in it: to go back to explore those standards, songs that are beautiful and are part of my history. I grew up playing as a jazz student in a foreign country. I missed it."

"I really like to play a slow blues. 'Mood Indigo,' for example. Just take a tune and play it. No planning and no arrangement ... I just wanted to have a different band where I could come to the gig and say, 'Here is a tune.' Go over it in two minutes back stage and play it at the gig. I miss that element. That spontaneity."

Cohen said that he recorded enough material for a second album. He's just waiting for the right time to release it. He also wants to play live more with the group, as their schedules allow. It's a challenge, without the piano, he explains, but one he enjoys experimenting with. "It opens up, it's less predictable. You have more freedom because there is less sound around you. You have to create some kind of texture coming from fewer instruments. Not having a piano there gives you certain harmonic freedom to explore."

Jazz may be the music of exploration, but as Cohen points out, "Some people are not so comfortable with that extra freedom. You already have enough freedom to begin with, with a lot of improvisation going on in jazz. Some people don't want that freedom. Technically or even traditionally. People like certain things. Maybe people don't even like that sound."

Subtract the bassist from a band, for example. "A whole lot of space is opening up on the bottom. Usually the bass holds down the bottom and is the center of the band," he says, "When you take that center out. It's like a balloon. Someone cuts the cord and you want to fly off to the sky, but you can't. So what do you do without that bottom there? Even in your emotional space, you don't have that thing in the bottom. So you have to play around with it to find other ways to fill it, or not to fill it. Some people are not so open to that. It might be too weird or too empty. I like that surprising emptiness that a bass-less trio, for example, gives you."

Cohen was also trying to get a relaxed, live feel to the recording.

"It sounds like it might be the easiest things to do but, funnily enough, it's actually one of the hardest to do," he explains. "Everyone wants to bring out a casual live situation sound in the studio. But it's rare you can actually do it. Because there are a lot of elements that come in. If you're not prepared. If you haven't recorded much, for example ... It ends up being very strict. You don't take chances. You take less chances in the studio if you're not ready." But he's pleased with the result and his ability to "capture that live sound, that casual, 'Let's just go in and play' ... I knew I was going to play some standards. I didn't know what. "Mood Indigo," I just threw in there. I told Omer, 'You play that part of the melody.' A slight arrangement on the spot, with the tiniest details, but it actually made the whole arrangement. Omer played one line on that melody. I didn't prepare any of the standards ahead of time. I knew that I wanted to play in one room, with no separation and no headphones and try to create the live sound as much as I can, with the elements I have in the studio."

As that music circulated, Cohen also said he was very pleased with the SFJAZZ Collective gig. "It's such an inspiring experience. A learning experience, absolutely. Those guys in the band are, first of all, such great people. Fantastic, supportive, egoless bunch of people. Even though it's an all-star band. You might think that won't be the case. It's hard to achieve his kind of attitude in an all-star band. But it happens to be like that. Everyone is so into the music, so respectful of each other. Everyone putting the music as a top priority, as opposed to, 'I need to solo more. I need to play my tune more.' Whatever is the best for the concert, that's what's going on ... It's been a fantastic experience" says Cohen.


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