Looking back, there must be hundreds or perhaps thousands of album titles that designate some reference to a river, regardless of their genre. But talented pianist Ryan Cohan does impart a distinctive stylization within the grand scope of this thoroughly modern jazz oeuvre, inspired by a recent U.S. State Department-sponsored tour of East Africa, and intersected with his Chicago roots. His septet seamlessly binds soul blues, African pop, and the jazz idiom, via concise, razor-sharp arrangements, often executed with the aplomb of a little big band. Cohan's methodology offers intermittent detours, playful digressions, and frolicsome free-form burnouts.
Cohan is a strong composer, and the ensemble burns through high- impact bop tinted with Afro-Cuban pulses, yet dishes out a snaky jazz- blues romp layered with regal choruses, blending convention with newness on "Brother Fifi." The pianist clearly runs point amid his profound rhythmic direction and captivating solo spots, where the respective musicians rise to the occasion throughout.
"Last Night at the Mannenberg" features a tempestuous soprano saxophone solo by Geof Bradfield, supported by Cohan's Professor Longhair-shaded voicings, equating to a buoyant Latin-blues vamp. Here, the leader adds oomph with punctual block chords and soul-drenched single note lines, abetted by a rollicking and rolling finale. The album closes with "River, Pt. 6Coming Home," highlighted by an enticing yet unorthodox alignment of gospel and indigenous percussion treatments, perhaps signaling a bridge between Americana and its African influences. Like a musical tour guide, Cohan's multi-tiered outlooks and scenic soundscapes yield quite a few bonuses during these inspired works that frequently transcend the norm.
River, Pt. 1 - Departure; Call & Response; Arrival; River, Pt. 2 - Dark
Horizon; Storm Rising; River, Pt. 3 – Aftermath; Forsaken; Brother Fifi;
River, Pt. 4 - Beautiful Land; Domboshava; Kampala Moon; River, Pt. 5 –
Connection; Last Night at the Mannenberg; River, Pt. 6 - Coming Home.