As Is ... Live At The Blue Note is a CD and DVD document of a superb set. Bassist Avishai Cohen is a true virtuoso on both the electric and acoustic bass and, quite naturally, his compositions are extremely strong rhythmically.
The band consists of his working trio, keyboardist Sam Barsh and drummer Mark Giulliana, to which saxophonist Jimmy Greene and trumpeter Diego Urcola have been added. That Barsh and Giulliana have been with Cohen awhile can be heard in the way they navigate his intricate rhythms and changing measure and phrase lengths. Jimmy Greene also knows Cohen well, playing on his album Devotion (Concord, 1999).
Greene is quite amazing as he moves in and out of synch rhythmically and harmonically with the rest of the band. There is something of the sense of sheer abandon in his attack, but he is under control all of the time and knows when to come back down to earth. His long lines swirl as he tells his story, rather than just blowing. His playing alone is worth the price of admission.
The tightness of the band is in constant tension, however, with the virtuosity of Cohen, who is so adept and secure that he draws attention to himself without working up a sweat, even when he is playing the role of accompanist. Whether this will be disconcerting to the listener is something else, and many might find an extra energy created by the bass being so up front; many in the audience appear to have.
"Feediop" is another example of how virtuosic complexity can sometimes be distracting. The bass line vamp has a meter/rhythm change that is clearly related to the main rhythm, but which is so odd that it sounds like showing off. It is as if Cohen is saying, "Look, I can write this hard bit right here," and the band responds, "Oh yeah, well we can do that!" as Barsh plays different keyboards with each hand and Guilliana takes it in stride.
This is all really just a quibble, since the music does carry one away and is hugely entertaining, including the almost fifteen-minute ending tune, Ellington's "Caravan," which is given a double twist with an odd meter and a funky backbeat. There must have been smiles all around as this very familiar standard was deconstructed, and each member of the band strutted his stuff.
The equally fine DVD contains other performances of four tunes from the CD, and three different ones from another set.
CD: Smash; Elli; Etude; Bass Suite #1; Feediop; Remembering; Caravan. DVD: Feediop; Samuel; One for Mark; Nu Nu; Smash; Remembering; Caravan.
Avishai Cohen: acoustic and electric bass; Sam Barsh: keyboards, melodica; Mark Guilliana: drums; Diego Urcola: trumpet; Jimmy Greene: saxophones.
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