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Third World Love at Le Poisson Rouge, NYC

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Third World Love
Le Poisson Rouge
New York, New York
May 1, 2009

"Fusion" is oft considered a four-letter word in jazz circles. But critics would do well to understand that jazz is itself a fusion, and is today more than ever moving forward by fusing different musics and cultures together. Case and point: Third World Love's performance at Le Poisson Rouge on May 1.

More a collective than a quartet, the group comprises Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Yonatan Avishai (piano), Omer Avital (bass), and Daniel Freedman (drums). The former three hail from Israel, while Freedman is from New York. The group explores the fusion of jazz with Middle Eastern and African rhythms and melodies, and the results are often staggering.

Listen to the music on Third World Love's website and you will hear excitement, intensity and, oh yeah, staggering chops. This is not music to be heard in a jazz club setting: this is music for an all-night rave-up in a club.

Which is what made the group's performance at Le Poisson Rouge all the more impressive. The room was set up as a jazz club, tables and all, and the audience was relatively sparse and subdued. Immediately this reviewer's expectations were turned upside down. And the performance the group gave was a lesson in understated, quiet passion.

The intensity was there, only in a different form. Beginning with a straight ballad composed by Avishai that could easily have been a standard, Cohen played the melody with such emotion that the audience was immediately transfixed. Avital and Avishai each took a solo turn before Cohen put the tune over the top with a truly poetic run through the changes. The smoky darkness of the room accented Cohen's clothes and top hat to give off the image of an old Cuban trumpeter, strolling leisurely down the street while blowing his horn.

That was the last "conventional" jazz tune of the set. Each band member got credit for at least one composition, but in keeping with the idea of the collective, the compositions fused together to create a single well-conceived set. Often slithering and sliding through the changes, the elasticity of the rhythm section was remarkable. Avital, Freedman and Avishai created a bubbling gumbo of a bottom that always seemed on the brink of boiling over, but never did. Cohen, meanwhile, has a knack for playing exactly what is needed and no more.

The set closer, "Nature's Dance," got some of the audience grooving along with the repeating theme but, even then, never rose above a slow boil. The tension that had built up over the course of the set was never released, but the creative passion was inescapable and, in itself, sufficiently compensating. This group may be reinventing itself on the fly, or this occasion may have been a one-off experiment on their part. Regardless, the performance was an example of why jazz is still so relevant—groups like Third World Love are constantly not only pushing themselves, but pushing the music into uncharted territory. You can bet that this fan will be following Third World Love's progress.

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