Avishai Cohen: From Darkness, a new trio studio album

Marta Ramon By

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Avishai Cohen is prolific in music and words, a creative volcano who finds his raison d'être melting with the heart of his wooden instrument. Cohen, who arrived at the forefront of the jazz scene being part of the Chick Corea Sextet "Origin" (from 1996 to 2003), has developed a unique voice and personality as a bassist, but also as a composer and singer. Internationally renowned because of his Trio, accompanied by the pianist Shai Maestro and the drummer Mark Guiliana, it seems that he found in this number the perfect equilibrium to explore the vast world of the music roots through the rhythm, but also through the harmony and the melody thanks to his classical background.

This musician, young in appearance but mature and with deep personality, has been touring around the world with his powerful trio. Nowadays he is accompanied by the pianist Nitai Hershkovits and the drummer Daniel Dor, with whom he has just recorded a captivating studio album From Darkness (Razdaz Recordz), their third together. This much-anticipated album will come out in March 2015 with all new original compositions and a beautiful historical one, "Smile" by Charlie Chaplin. One of their stops in their summer tour was the Valencia Jazz Festival (Spain) where Avishai Cohen found time to sit down with All About Jazz.

All About Jazz: What's going on?

Avishai Cohen: Playing and touring. Doing what I always do, what I have to do.

AAJ: You are touring but you also are preparing a new record.

AC: Yes. We just have finished a trio record, the last thing I have recorded. They are new compositions. I think it is a more rhythmic CD, it's getting a lot of rhythms in comparison, perhaps, to the last one [Almah (Razdaz Recordz, 2013)] which has strings and it's more lineal and melodic. You'll find new compositions, new visions and colors... It's hard to explain, I think it's better just to hear it.

AAJ: And what kind of rhythms have you picked this time?

AC: I think it's always the same, they are all African. My Latin influence is in there also and Arabic are as well... Some things I hear... Yeah, the influence of the rhythm is so global!

AAJ: From where do you get the inspiration to make the fusion of these rhythms with a contemporary jazz language?

AC: Just from living life, you know. Being open and aware of everything that is authentic or seems to be. Many things affect me, even the sound of a city, which has a certain kind of rhythm. At the end of the day it's hard to put your finger on what was it exactly that started it. I get always very attached to rhythm, I am a rhythmic person I guess... I always liked to dance...

AAJ: Are you a good dancer?

AC: [Laughs] I don't know if I am a good dancer but I've always liked the feeling, you know? The rhythm, in itself, is such a strong form of expression and communication. I think that it is probably the biggest reason why I am a musician, because of the rhythm. And then of course, the melody and harmony are almost the rides of that. But really, the next trio record is really exciting.

AAJ: That attraction to rhythm is very potent in your compositions. In other musicians we may feel a melodic or an harmonic developing, but in you it is about the rhythm.

AC: I don't know! I just say that in my eyes, or in my ears, rhythm is such a big part. My other recordings have always had rhythm involved, but in this new one it's there even a little more. It's funny because I wanted to make a more rhythmical record and it just came out from the material I had, and it has a lot of exciting rhythms, and it has some beautiful linear, quiet ballads. But yeah, it's a trio that is really fun for me to play with every night. Anything we do makes us enjoy.

AAJ: Do you feel that you are a universal musician?

AC: I guess I am a universal musician in the way I play all over the world, and that maybe makes me universal. You know, music for me is one of the closest ways to express truth or something that is nature. It is so much itself, it get its own life. I have so much admiration for music, because it says something that other things can't. Music expresses some things that we couldn't express otherwise. Music is beyond words and beyond anything else that I know.

AAJ: Why do you think that music is so natural to you?

AC: Wow, it's a gift! I consider it a gift and I don't think about it too much so it won't disappear! [Smiles]. It is such a wonderful appealing feeling that I have to music since I can remember, since I was a kid. Maybe it has to do with the fact that my parents have a natural love for music and I grew up in an appropriate environment. But there is also a personal thing in music for me that I can't explain. I feel so uplifted with music, it makes me feel better. I was granted such a big gift in my life. Maybe someone can think that it is mad, of course. But that's the beauty, it is like God. I don't necessary believe in God in a traditional way but music is the closest belief to God for me, as nature. Music is beyond anything that I can explain so that's God I guess. I can't really explain it, I can't touch it really, it doesn't belong to you because it belongs to everything. That's music for me, and I am very, very, happy to be part of it.

AAJ: Is the music for you the way to experience freedom?

AC: I come from the jazz tradition which means that I am a free spirit, I like to be free and I like to express myself. I have a tendency to go my own way, learning alone and developing myself. I have the need to improvise and go outside the box, and jazz is the most exceptional form of art as a musician. I wanted to be free since I was young and that's why I am into jazz. Though I am very influenced by classical music, pop music and folklore in many different ways, something created by cultures is such a strong inspiration for me as an individual. Jazz embraces most idioms, more than any other genre, and it has gone to many ways where it didn't used to be, which is good. It is funny because there is jazz tradition but jazz tradition is not to stay in the tradition, so it conflicts itself, which is very interesting.

AAJ: You need to visit the traditions to move forward.

AC: Yes, you can't be modern without being in touch with the roots, because if you don't know the way you are gonna jump it. It's not gonna have the elements to make something new where you still feel the tradition. To be a good artist you need to be in touch with what happened until now in order to push it forward. That's not always possible, not always easy, but it is what I try.

AAJ: That's a really philosophical vision—like "Where do we come from"?

AC: Yes, that's true. As human beings we have the gift of knowledge and intelligence, and emotional intelligence that keeps us in touch with the feelings of the past and gives us something spiritual. We don't just wake up in the morning, eat and sleep just thinking to survive, we do that as living creatures but we also have the strong elements of art which are the feelings.

AAJ: Do you think you are a transgressor inside the tradition?

AC: You need to answer that, I leave it to you to say that because I can't answer. But that is what I like in other people's music and I strive for that. You know, when you hear something really, really, incredible it doesn't matter if it is one hundred years old, because it sounds like it was written yesterday, it sounds like it is innovative now. So that is what I try to reach with the music I make because I like the fact that people like it, and I like the fact of giving and contributing to the world [smiles].

AAJ: You contribute to the world and it also looks like you feed your colleagues' motivation to music.

AC: I write music to try to inspire the musicians that play with me because they are a big part of the success of the music, the music doesn't only depend on me, on writing a beautiful tune, that's not enough for me. It's another level to play your music with musicians who interpret it in their own way because you never do that so I feel very lucky in that sense, because the music is better than it would be if I only play it. That's a great gift that I have, having great musicians who want to play my music. I have a big job because if I don't inspire them every night to sound new, to surprise people that don't want to hear something that they have heard before. That's a big responsibility.

AAJ: Do you think that you have reached "your sound"?

AC: I think you arrive to your own sound as sound as you touch your instrument for your first time in your life, before you even know anything you have your sound. I always try to learn, to be better. But I think my sound is instinctive, and distinctive since I started playing because I have been influenced by music and musicians all my life. But I have always had this cord, like the intention, my intention. So sound is a very deep thing, it's something that you can't buy and force, it's like who you are, and that's the hard thing in life, regardless of whether or not you're a musician. When you are musician, singer or player, it's very obvious what your sound is, either distinct our not [smiles].

AAJ: And do you feel the same with your singing? You have said a few times that when you started singing you explained that you needed time to accept your voice.

AC: Yes, signing is one of the most difficult and scary things I do, it's like going to the street with no clothes on. You are naked in front of everybody's judgement, but it is such an intimate reflection of your heart, in the sense that a lot of people can get close to you. Singing for me came later, I was already established as a musician, which made it even harder because I had so much criticism of myself, which is the main problem in life: your own criticism of yourself. It's about accepting yourself or not. And I had to work on it pretty hard to get the place where you are comfortable, but still today I don't consider myself to be a singer. Singing is another element which is extremely important in life and in my music but it is just another element, but I have to say that now I feel much more connected with the singing and much more comfortable.

AAJ: Are you singing on your new record?

AC: No, because I decided to make more of a concept record. I wanted to make a total instrumental trio record, which I think has a strong character, and if you put a voice in it wouldn't be the same. So I am very aware that I wanted to present that in my next record.

AAJ: How do you prepare your compositions: routine or inspirational work?

AC: Uhmm... I have to be feeling close to myself, getting into an isolated mode, and meditating with the piano. I write most of my music with the piano. I usually sit down in front of the piano and if I am lucky something happens. Composition to me is not so much like the piano is my office, no. Composition is me being around an instrument and detecting something when it happens, being aware, being connected to the moment, recognizing something, the hit, a cord, the origin, and where it starts. When that happens I then have the responsibility to take that thing and develop it, and that's the next level: the continuation of the story. And that can take a day or that can take a year with one song. It's all about identifying something. That's how I compose: being aware of a sound, a form of life, the nature in it.

AAJ: You always cite Bach.

AC: Yes! He's the [greatest] musician that ever lived.

AAJ: He's in all your interviews, have you got a poster of him in your room?

AC: [Laughs] I don't! I have looked for it in the stores but they don't have it! [Laughs] Its funny! Basically when I was very young and I started wanting to be a musician and taking some classical piano lessons and also listening to some Bach at home, because my mum put lot of classical music on the radio. I recognized something in his music, two elements that for me are the winning elements of the music: one was the mathematic sense which is very intriguing and very interesting to me, and the anti-mathematic sense, the soulful feeling, the spiritual or religious art in his music. He is the harmony and melody in its purity in the most elite way. That together to me is the highest form of music. Bach still today is the big inspiration, I always want to be a student of him.

AAJ: Time's up, an open farewell?

AC: [Silence deep breathing] Music is the story of my life, it says what I am and why I am here.

Photo Credit: Youri Lenquette

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