Surrounded by top-shelf support, pianist Tal Cohen
makes a significant statement on Gentle Giants
, his second album as a leader. Not content merely to demonstrate his formidable technique, he brings a unique compositional vision to his craft, pulling from his early exposure to Jewish folk music and an extensive immersion in classical composers like Chopin and Scriabin in the process of shaping a unique jazz vision. The result is a highly engaging and stimulating release, with surprises and intriguing choices in abundance on these ten tracks.
After spending his childhood in Israel, Cohen relocated to Australia, where he's worked a good deal with tenor saxophonist Jamie Oehlers
, who is featured here along with alto saxophonist Greg Osby
, bassist Robert Hurst
, and drummer Nate Winn
. One can hear Cohen's Jewish folk influence on the meditative, hymn-like "Lo Haya," built around a lovely melody played in unison by Cohen and Oehlers that gradually broadens in harmonic sophistication, revealing Cohen's major debt to Scriabin. It's a beautiful piece, enhanced powerfully on the second part of the piece when the rest of the band joins in over a grooving ostinato loop of the melody, raising the intensity level in what eventually becomes a major blowing session, with both horns trading potent statements as the piece ends in an exhilarating finish.
In addition to his eagerness to incorporate folk and classical elements, Cohen is clearly at home within the bop and post-bop tradition. The record kicks off with a very imaginative arrangement of Miles Davis
's "Nardis," and it's perfect for highlighting the lithe rhythmic partnership of Hurst and Winn, a terrific team who accommodate Cohen's stylistic diversity with panache. Up-tempo tracks like "Great PK (For Shuli)" and "Gavetsch" similarly illustrate Cohen's straight-ahead sensibilities, with some heady tempo changes on the latter track to keep things interesting. Cohen's skill as a soloist is impressive, especially when he's pounding out chordal salvos or executing complex two-handed passages; listen to his solo on the post-bop excursion "Ducks" as a terrific example. But he's also confident enough to work with open space and quiet restraint as well: his delicate statement on "Gentle Giant" is gorgeous in its simple elegance.
Cohen's partners are no slouches either. Osby's alto (and soprano, on "Chopin Meets Abach") enlivens the several tracks on which he appears, especially on "Great PK (For Shuli)," where his clipped, punchy phrases are perfect in sustaining the rhythmic energy of the track. Oehlers constructs his own solos expertly, with strong dynamic arcs and terrific command, as heard to great effect on "Legacy," an infectious medium-tempo post-bop vehicle.
Cohen is clearly someone to keep an eye on, now and in the future. He's already making his mark, but as his distinctive compositional approach continues to evolve, he will no doubt have even more to contribute to the jazz piano scene.