Avishai Cohen: Trumpet Trio Makes Strong Mark

R.J. DeLuke By

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Everyone wants to bring out a casual live situation sound in the studio. It sounds like it might be the easiest things to do but, funny enough, it's actually one of the hardest to do.
Avishai Cohen is a trumpeter of substantial talent, working hard on his craft and career, making strides that are tangible. The steps that he takes, the bands that he plays with, are impressive. There are a lot of good young trumpeters out there, and he's situated squarely in their lot.

Early this year, he toured with the SFJAZZ Collective, a strong group of some of today's best musicians. But Cohen's more impressive recent mark on his résumé is his latest recording, a trio album, done without piano, that brings his strong playing to the forefront. It also puts on display an impressive band that communicates well while exploring the openness of that musical context.

Introducing Triveni (Anzic) came out in the latter part of 2010. On it, Cohen's playing is supple and hip—full of life. Playing over around and through the intricate rhythms of drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist Omer Avital, the album makes a strong statement. All three are thinking on their feet, pushing the musical conversation forward.

It's also a return to a freer, more improvisational kind of music that Cohen likes to dig into. In doing so, Cohen was careful about selecting just the right musicians to bring the music to life. And he was very clear on the concept. So strong were his convictions about the canvass he wanted to paint on, that trumpet trio music recorded previously was scrapped.

"It wasn't the specific sound that I wanted to bring out," says Cohen. "It wasn't like a failed session or anything. It was very good trio playing. It was just not this sound"—the one brought out by Waits and Avital.

Explains the trumpeter, "Omer has his own sound. He has his own time feel, his own approach to music and to jazz. Specifically, in this trio he is also functioning as a second soloist. Omer as a soloist has always been known to come across like he's a horn player, almost. His lines are structured as a horn player, not so much as a bassist. So in a trio setting it works perfect, because he can be the bassist and he can be the second soloist.

"Nasheet absolutely has his own sound, as well. He's raw as a drummer, the freedom that he takes and he gives. That balance between what he takes and what he gives and how we play around with it—that's so unique to him. In the beginning, it was not an easy thing to just jump on. With some drummers, it's easy right away. They keep behind you and you can roll on it. But with Nasheet it's not necessarily the case. It's more challenging, more surprising, more mysterious. Definitely unpredictable. It took me a while to understand his playing and to accept it. I knew it was something I wanted to understand."

That tension is one of the cool things about the music. Avital and Cohen weave in and around the beats of Waits to great effect. Cohen's "Ferrara Napoly," for example, is a slow tempo improvisational groove where Waits' dissimilar steps can clearly be heard. The trumpet is spot on negotiating the tune within those rhythms. The interplay is engaging.

"He's different than any drummer I ever played with," Cohen says. "He's a force. His drive is absolutely incredible. Nasheet is kind of the unknown. Omer, I'm not saying he's predictable, but he's more in the known section because I've played with him for so many years. In all different configurations. A few of my other projects. A few of his projects. Not to mention Third World Love, a band we've been co-leading for seven years. And he played with the 3 Cohens. And I played with him when I was 12 and he was 16. We played together for the first time when I was a kid back in Israel. So I know him."

"There's not too many records like this," he says. "My first record [The Trumpet Player (Fresh Sound/New Talent, 2003)] was like that. Funnily enough, the reason my first album was like this was because I got some free time in a studio that didn't have a piano. Back then it wasn't so much a concept as a reality situation. But it wasn't a big deal, because I had done it before. Years later, I realized the concept is not so foreign to me. One of my biggest influences is Miles Davis. I realized a lot of Miles' playing, even though he had a quintet; a lot of his solos are just trio. Many of the recordings Herbie Hancock doesn't comp for Miles and Wayne Shorter doesn't play during Miles' solo. Maybe I got used to that sound hearing it came from that. I had it in me because I grew up on those sounds."


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