Avishai Cohen and Yonathan Avishai Release Playing The Room on ECM Records. Out Now!


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Playing The Room bears testimony to the long musical friendship of Avishai Cohen and Yonathan Avishai. They began to explore jazz as teenagers in Tel Aviv, and have continued to play together over many years, with Yonathan recently making important contributions to Avishai’s group albums on ECM. Their first duo recording begins with music composed by the trumpeter and by the pianist and concludes with a touching interpretation of Israeli composer Alexander Argov’s cradle song “Shir Eres”. Along the way, Avishai and Yonathan improvise—freely, playfully, soulfully – on themes from the jazz tradition. And, as the album titles implies, they also invite the recording space, the Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI in Lugano, to be part of the sound, making full use of its resonant acoustic properties in a performance with the intimacy and focus of chamber music.

The original impetus for the album came from a casual comment of Manfred Eicher’s, made during the recording of Yonathan Avishai’s trio recording Joys and Solitudes in Lugano in February 2018: “Avishai [Cohen] should play this room”, the producer remarked. Within a few weeks a duo session, to test the implications of this, was spontaneously scheduled. The nature of Cohen’s albums Into The Silence and Cross My Palm with Silver, with their wide dynamic range and sometimes strongly-stressed rhythm, had called for a different kind of recording set-up, in which bass and drums could be isolated when necessary, and Studios La Buissonne near Marseilles proved a good choice for the challenges of that music. The more conversational qualities of the trumpet-piano duo, however, could grow and glow in the wood- walled recital room of Lugano.

The question of what to play was almost secondary. Yonathan Avishai and Avishai Cohen have a shared history of 30 years of musical interaction. Yonathan puts it more simply: “We’ve been playing together forever.” They attended the same junior high school in Israel, and Yonathan had made music already in ensembles with Cohen’s siblings, saxophonist Yuval and clarinettist Anat, before it became apparent that the pianist and the trumpeter had a special musical connection, one which has deepened with the passing of time, as they have honed their improvisational rapport. Playing The Room then is the dialogue of friends. Sharing ideas in the music, offering individual statements, reflecting on jazz history as well as personal associations. And working with the sound of the room: Avishai allows the middle and lower registers of the trumpet, in particular, to sing with a golden, burnished glow – in general, bearing out The Boston Globe’s description of him as “a trumpeter of rare poise and lyricism.” Meanwhile, with a personal style simultaneously robust and modest, both modern and anchored in the blues, Yonathan Avishai alludes to the some of the masters whose work continues to resonate. “His solos”, noted Downbeat recently, are “spacious, unhurried, lovely, sounding as if he’s in no rush to prove himself.”

“Since I’m playing Avishai’s music in his quartet which is a whole journey in itself and since I have my trio as a context for my ideas, neither of us felt that the duo recording should primarily be about us as writers,” says Yonathan Avishai. “We each brought along one tune [Avishai Cohen’s “The Opening”, and Yonathan’s “Two Lines”], and these were the first things recorded. After that, the sequence of pieces is fairly close to the order in which we played the music in Lugano and it has to do with energies that we really like, and composers we like, in jazz and other idioms. We’ve always played some of Ornette’s music, for instance: ‘Dee Dee’ is a tune we’ve played for many years, and in fact we often quote it when improvising. We’ve always liked Ellington of course, and Abdullah Ibrahim and so on, and certain things came out. Almost everything was a first take.”

The idea of including Yonathan’s arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s Ellington homage “Sir Duke” arose as indirect tribute to Don Cherry who had incorporated part of the chorus of the tune in the piece “Colemanwonder” on the first Codona album (1978) with Collin Walcott and Nana Vasconcelos. Almost a solo piano piece in the present interpretation, Cohen’s trumpet floats in gently in the final moments.

Adding Sasha Argov’s “Shir Eres” at the end of the album brings us full circle back to Israel. Argov (1914-1995) counts as one of the country’s most important and prolific composers, his wide-ranging œuvre including more than a thousand songs written to the words of Israeli poets.

Recorded in September 2018, and produced by Manfred Eicher, Playing The Room is available as both audiophile vinyl album and compact disc.

This story appears courtesy of ECM Records.
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