"This is the project". That's what Avishai Cohen said last night at the Barbican at the end of two truly stunning sets of old, new and re-worked songs in the company of his regular trio partners, pianist Nitai Hershkovits and 20 years old drummer Ofri Nehemiah with five outstanding musicians - cellist Yael Shapir, violinist Cordelia Hagmann, viola players Amit Landau and Noam Heimovitz-Weinschel and oboist Yoram Lachish. Ms. Shapir also joined Cohen on some of the vocals. Very nice. "The project" was Avishai's reference to his latest musical development, incorporating stringed instruments into his musical repertoire.
The gig began with "Overture" an original Avishai Cohen composition that he said he had worked on for a very long time and which had a distinctly classical feel to it. The audience which included many regular Cohen concert goers seemed a little surprised at first at this approach but very quickly warmed up as he worked through a couple of Hebrew songs - his version of what he described as an old fashioned innocent love song and then Natan Alterman's slightly psychotically worded poem Nigun Atiq, which pledges undying love and devotion but also includes threats of death and destruction stemming from jealousy!
Cohen's Ladino repertoire was well represented with Alfonsina, Morenika, Puncha Puncha and Yo Menamori all well received. There was a reference to Cohen's jazz roots with Thad Jones "A Child Is Born" which was completely beautiful with our man's playing, a terrific solo from Lachish, and the strength of feeling from the strings bringing at least one listener to the brink of tears. And those strings were frighteningly effective during a new arrangement of the old favourite "Shalom Aleichem" - the strength of Cordelia Hagmann's violin playing being the revelation of the evening for me. This piece showcased each of the musicians with Hershkowitz's oriental flavoured piano and Nehemiah's drumming also getting huge cheers from the totally involved crowd.
Three times the audience brought them back, with a cheeky solo of "La Cukaracha" from Cohen, "Seven Seas" from the whole ensemble and "Remembering" from the trio. And they really could have played all night if the audience had their way. This is indeed "The Project". The addition of strings, the new arrangements and the obvious joy of those musicians at joining our hero made for a very special night.
Now, when are we going to get an album of this? Avishai Cohen, you are a genius and we are priveliged.