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Avishai Cohen: Duende

Bruce Lindsay By

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Avishai Cohen is a distinctive player: his raw energy, deft and fluid fretting style and tough, forceful right hand combine in one of the most readily recognizable double bass sounds in contemporary music. He's brought this sound to collaborations with many leading musicians including pianists Chick Corea and Brad Mehldau, and drummer Mark Guiliana, and has produced a dozen albums as leader. Duende, Cohen's third album for Blue Note, is something of a new departure: a duo record with up-and-coming pianist Nitai Hershkovits. In current terms it's short at just under 34 minutes, but every tune—indeed, every note—counts.

Cohen first heard Hershkovits playing in a Tel Aviv bar when the pianist was only 20 years of age. Hershkovits was still in his early-20s when the duo recorded Duende, but his style and confidence demonstrate a mature talent and sensibility. The album title is derived from a Spanish word for artistic soul or spirit; according to Cohen, "It's a feeling that nurtures music."

The music that's nurtured on this album is a mix of Cohen's own tunes and some classic jazz compositions. Cohen's tunes tend to be gentle, pretty, ballads or mid-tempo numbers. Whether it's the waltz-time feel of "Ann's Tune" or the rolling, fluid, lyricism of "Signature" or "Soof," the duo performs exquisitely, sharing lead and rhythm roles with equanimity. Hershkovits sits out "Ballad For An Unborn," leaving Cohen to take over the piano for a heartfelt solo rendition of his own melancholy composition.

The musicians give Thelonious Monk's "Criss Cross" a stabbing, almost military, rhythm. Cohen opens and closes the tune with extended periods of arco bass, his playing powerful, with a low down growling groove. The pair's interpretation of John Coltrane's "Central Park West" is, by contrast, very down-tempo and relaxed, the interplay between bass and piano beautifully affecting. Hershkovits doesn't get a composer credit on Duende but his arrangement of Cole Porter's "All Of You" brings freshness to the standard—an up-tempo, jagged, rework that switches lead roles between piano and bass with imaginative grace.

Although it's Cohen's name writ large on the album cover, this is a genuine duo recording. Hershkovits is an equal partner in performance, clearly unperturbed by the bassist's experience and talent, and Cohen is happy to share the spotlight with this exciting young talent. Duende is an all-too-brief introduction to an impressive new partnership.

Track Listing: Signature; Criss Cross; Four Verses / Continuation; Soof; All Of You; Central Park West; Ann's Tune; Calm; Ballad For An Unborn.

Personnel: Avishai Cohen: double bass, piano (9); Nitai Hershkovits: piano.

Title: Duende | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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