Wednesday 17 October 2012

Jazz genius Avishai Cohen - stompin' at Ronnie Scotts

For an encore they gave us "Remembering". Heart-achingly beautiful. Heartbreakingly beautiful. And for five minutes or so I am not in a rainy October London, I am standing on the shore at Tel Aviv as the Mediterranean sun sets in all of its purples, reds and oranges as the sky slowly darkens and the tide laps in. And then they were gone and I have to go for the tube!

Tonight was the second of three nights at Ronnie Scott's for Avishai Cohen, who has to be the best bass player in the world as well as a pretty fantastic pianist and a mean guitar player. He also sings rather wonderfully too - although tonight he didn't treat us to the voice. Supported by two other maestros - Omri Mor on piano and Amir Bresler on drums, the show opened with a lengthy working out of "Dreaming" from the "Seven Seas" album, and this set the tone for the evening with exquisite interplay between the three musicians - Mor working his magic on the piano and introducing an "oriental" sound to the proceedings, whilst Mr Bresler was infinitely more than the man who holds the music together, regularly taking the lead and as Avishai himself said, challenging the other musicians with innovative and inventive rhythms.

The trio worked their way through a number of recent  recordings including the title track from the "Seven Seas" album and three tracks from the recent and remarkable "Duende" album - "Soof", "Calm" and "Ballad for an unborn", the latter two being beautiful ballads soothing the audience after some earlier duelling between the musicians. We were also treated to a remarkable tribute to Lebanese songstress Samira Tawfik when the trio put two of her songs together and gave them the Avishai Cohen treatment. This had the audience whooping and shrieking - whilst a couple of other numbers had a distinctly middle eastern feel to them and also received a good reception.

I liked Omri Mor's cheeky reference to Gershwin's "Fascinating Rhythm" during one of the numbers, as well as his almost permanent smile and obvious delight in performing, whilst Cohen performed some amazing facial gymnastics that would rival the skills of some of the most accomplished mime artists. Every time I see Avishai Cohen play I am reminded of the physicality of being a musician. His performance its not about standing on the stage and playing beautifully, it is about his relationship with the instrument; talking to it, moving with it and using it to speak to the audience. And he is a showman too - putting down his bass and joining Omri Mor on the drums to support the "lead" drumming of Amir Bresler during the penultimate number to further shrieks of delight from the audience. It really doesn't get any better than this.

Amir Breslau is just 22 whilst Omri Mor is also less than 30. I saw Mor play at Levontin 7 in Tel Aviv a few years ago accompanying the great Maurice el Medioni - surely we must have an album from him soon? I don't know how a small country like Israel produces so many great jazz artists - Omer Avital, Yaala Ballin, Ilan Salem, Shai Maesto, Yonatan Avishai, Ari Erev, Anat Cohen, Yuval Cohen ( and the other, trumpet playing, Avishai Cohen - no relation to tonight's Mr Cohen, but brother of Anat and Yuval, oh and there's another Yuval Cohen who plays piano!) -  and this is only part of the story. The jazz scene there is small but beautiful with many young artists coming through. There are a number of hot jazz clubs and there is also the now twice per year Red Sea Jazz Festival, for which Avishai Cohen has been artistic director for the last few years.

Our Avishai is playing Ronnie Scott's tomorrow night - but it is sold out not surprisingly, so uness you an squeeze in, you'll have to wait until 7th May next year when he is playing the Barbican. Don't miss it - I'm booking my ticket as soon as I post this and then going to bed happy!

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