Saturday, November 12, 2011

3 Cohens + 1 + 1 More (Not Related)

Yuval (soprano saxophone), Anat (tenor saxophone, clarinet) and Avishai (trumpet) are the children of Bilha and David Cohen.  Born and raised in Tel Aviv, Israel, the siblings attended the Thelma Yellin High School of Arts and, thanks to scholarships from Israel-American cultural foundations and the World Scholarship Tours, they were able to attend Berklee School of Music.  Yuval is the only one of the 3 to live in Israel - he is currently a Professor of Music at the Rubin Academy of Music & Dance in Jerusalem; he also teaches at the Rimon School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, at his alma mater Thelma Yellin High School and is the conductor of the big band of the Tel Aviv Music Conservatory.  Most jazz fans know that Anat has worked with the DIVA Big Band and currently leads several groups.  Avishai holds down the trumpet chair in the SF Jazz Collective, tours and records with Third World Love and his own Triveni Trio.  He's also now part of trumpeter Dave Douglas's Tea for Three, a sextet that also features trumpeter Enrico Rava. 

"Family" (Anzic Records) is the 3 Cohens' 3rd CD.  The self-produced recording features the exciting rhythm section of Aaron Goldberg (piano), Matt Penman (bass) and Gregory Hutchinson (drums). After meeting and gigging with vocalist Jon Hendricks, the Cohens invited the 90-year old scat master to record several tracks. He ambles through a sweet reading of "On the Sunny Side of the Street" getting great support from pianist Goldberg. After an impressive and jaunty scat solo, the Cohens take the tune to New Orleans, trading "fours" and then playing together for a chorus. Hendricks also graces the final track, "Roll 'Em Pete", an uptempo romp with a pretty sprightly "vocalese" solo followed by a raucous clarinet spot from Anat. Yuval then takes off on the soprano then hands the spotlight to Avishai for a bluesy solo.  Goldberg swings mightily then cedes the floor to
Penman and Hutchinson.  5 minutes of pure joy that ends way too soon.

If you only listen to the opening 3 tracks, you'd think the family was making a tribute to Charles Mingus.  The blues-drenched "Shufla De Shufla" with its hard-edged drive and fiery solos can be compared to "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting" and "Haitian Fight Song" while "Blues for Dandi's Orange Bull Chasing An Orange Sack" opens with a George Gershwin-like piano solo the front line moves into a rapid hard-bop melody.  The third track, "With the Soul of the Greatest of Them All" is sub-titled "Dedicated to Charles Mingus" - Penman starts the tune off with a muscular solo and Yuval's splendid soprano soars through the melody line and chord structure that suggests the great bassist-composer without imitating him.

There are several fascinating covers including a New Orleans style arrangement of Duke Ellington's "The Mooch" followed by a up-tempo, modernistic, jaunt through "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans."  Anat supplies a Middle-Eastern intro to "Tiger Rag" which then jumps right into a clarinet romp that would please Benny Goodman.  She and Avishai pull out the stops for one chorus then Penman and Goldberg hit it hard.

Avishai's title track is a sweet ballad with a stunning arrangement for the saxes and trumpet plus more excellent work from the rhythm section.  Goldberg is quite sympathetic here, supporting and supplying a rich chordal backdrop. He leads the group in and quietly takes the piece out.

"Family" is a real treat, well-played, smart arrangements, solid songs and a real sense of a group having a great doing what they love.  That all starts with the close-knit Cohens and the joy that emanates from their love and respect for each other as well as their great knowledge of the jazz tradition.  And, with Jon Hendricks as the icing on the musical cake, this CD is loads of fun. For more information, go to

In 2009, Yuval Cohen recorded a duo CD with his good friend and pianist Shai Maestro.  Over the course of 3 sessions in a Jerusalem , they produced "Song Without Words" (Anzic Records), 8 intimate musical conversations. The 24-year old pianist is best known for his association with Israeli-born bassist-composer Avishai Cohen (no relation to Yuval and his family) and will be releasing his debut CD as a leader in 2012.

But, this recording is a series of sweet encounters throughout.  The hypnotic melody line that permeates the title track hints at a Brazilian love song while the melody and rhythm of "Nehama" reminds the listener of Erik Satie and Paul Simon.  The duo plays with the structure of "Bye Bye Blackbird", hinting at the melody as they dance around each other. Yuval's playful solo quotes several different tunes while Maestro romps gaily through the chords.  The impressionistic aural painting of Johnny Mercer & Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark" is heartfelt, the soprano sax lines hinting at the latter composer's laconic vocal style.  The duo offer a fun romp through John Coltrane's "26-2", with fine unison playing on the theme and "Giant Steps" style chords from the pianist (dig the quick double-time lines Maestro throws in several times.) "Shir Hasade" (the Song of the Field) is a work by noted Israeli composer David Zehavi (1910-1977); the piece has a lovely melody and this emotional performance has to be a reflection of the love the musicians have for their native land.

"Song Without Words" may remind some listeners of "Red Lanta", the 1973 ECM recording of pianist Art Lande and reed player Jan Garbarek.  Several of the pieces that Yuval Cohen and Shai Maestro create here have the same innocence and sweetness that the earlier duo displayed on several tracks.  Both recordings are conversations, not competitions, encounters where melody and harmony are king and queen, where the interplay is intuitive, not forced.  During the recent power outage in Connecticut, this CD, along with Dan Tepfer's delightful "Goldberg Variations/Variations", kept me sane and entertained in the car.  For more information, go to

 Pianist Emmet Cohen (no relations to any other Cohen in this review) recorded his debut CD, "In The Element" (Badabeep) in August of 2010 when he was 20 years old.  However, he is no newcomer, having started piano at the age of 3. He later studied at the Youth Keyboard program at the University of Miami and, at the age of 10, was accepted in the Manhattan School of Music Pre-college Program.  He's won a slew of awards and came in third in the 2011 Thelonious Monk Piano Competition.

So, can Emmet Cohen play?  Yes, can he play!  This program features the fine rhythm section of Joe Sanders (bass) and Rodney Green (drums) - they push him hard on the uptempo pieces and offer finely honed accompaniment on the slower or softer pieces.  Trumpeter Greg Gisbert shows up for 3 tunes, his crisp tone leading the way on Cohen's funky hard-bop Cohen original "Just Deserts."  The pianist and trumpeter caress "Good Morning Heartache", both delivering sweet solos while Sanders plays fine counterpoint and Green offers soft brush work.  The trio rendition of Frank Foster's "Simone" is quite entrancing with good solos from all, especially bassist Sanders, a player with great melodic instincts (he's an integral member of pianist Gerald Clayton's trio and has also recorded with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire.) Cohen shows impressive "chops" on the burning "Resentment (Without Reason)", flying above the bass and drums.  The title track also offers the listener an opportunity to hear the trio swing mightily, Cohen leading the way with passion. 

Cohen goes it alone on "For All We Know" and creates a lovely piece, reminiscent of Fred Hersch, a pianist who makes sure we can always hear the melody even as he moves through different chordal variations. The young man displays his impressive skills but never at the cost of losing sight of the song's heart.  

"In the Element" introduces Emmet Cohen, a young man with great talent and great promise.  Joe Sanders and Rodney Green are a delight, allowing Cohen the freedom and breathing room he need to explore the myriad possibilities.  To find out more, go to

No comments:

Post a Comment