Handling the acoustic bass like a flamenco guitar, then applying the blues, newcomer Avishai Cohen has produced a session in the modern mainstream with considerable intensity. The "fire" comes from his writing; these are all the bassist's compositions except for the standard "Besame Mucho." In putting together his arrangements, Cohen mixes meters in various combinations, allowing them to shift frequently, and couples that concept with a built-in intensity through his harmonic approach. With a core trio consisting of bassist Cohen, pianist Jason Lindner and drummer Jeff Ballard, the melodies are presented with a nod to the leader's improvisational strengths. Soprano saxophonist Steve Wilson and trombonist Steve Davis provide support as well.
"Madrid" opens with the bowed bass and presents a unique approach to blending. Adding the oud of Amos Hoffman to the ensemble, Cohen has combined two distinct flavors - the oud is an Arabic stringed instrument commonly used with quarter tones; thus, the musical effect here is similar to inviting Spanish flamenco dancers and traditional Middle Eastern dancers to the same stage. The savory multi-ethnic flavor continues with "Dror" and "Adama." Cohen stretches out on "Bass Suite #1," providing both bass and percussion parts by slapping the bass and strings. Here and elsewhere, Hoffman, Cohen and Ballard are given an opportunity to stretch out; it is unfortunate that Davis, Wilson, and Lindner are bound by the arrangements and cannot improvise as freely.
Cameos by pianists Brad Mehldau, Danilo Perez and Chick Corea appear at the close of the session. On "Besame Mucho" Mehldau spurs Cohen onward to some of his most lyrical playing on this album. Danilo Perez is at the piano and Chick Corea at the Fender Rhodes piano for "Gadu," which allows the listener to appreciate the difference between the two instruments. Corea and Perez alternate, converse, and trade phrases as conguero Don Alias and bassist Cohen share the spotlight. Newcomer Avishai Cohen has assembled a unique session, largely through his interesting compositions, and is clearly a welcome voice on today's jazz scene.