Many musicians dream of making a record with a symphony orchestra, but few can afford to make it a reality. Thanks to an extraordinary ability to compose melodies that take root in his listeners’ minds and because he has patiently performed these compositions on stage to the point where they are practically a part of him, Avishai Cohen was well-positioned to execute such an ambition. Two Roses (Friday April 16th, 2021, NAÏVE / BELIEVE) is the result of a long process, which began in 2013 when Cohen recorded his album Almah, with his trio and a small chamber ensemble of four string instruments and an oboe.
Cohen’s music is an intricate tapestry of global and historical influence. A master of Afro-Caribbean music, Cohen has absorbed its complexity. Equally affected by the melodies of Israeli folklore, and the complexity of their Sephardi, Ashkenazi or Yemeni heritages, he reintroduced the traditional Ladino “Morenika,” as well as popular tunes from his native country, such as “Two Roses”, which lends its title to this album. The title itself works as a metaphor for the album’s adept fusion of jazz, and the symphonic world. Cohen, a fan of jazz standards, which he likes to make his own through very personal arrangements — in this recording, with a version of “Nature Boy” — nevertheless remains a composer of themes in his own right. Many of his own “classics” take their cues from North Africa, the Middle East, Slavic countries and Russia.
“Recording with an orchestra is an adventure in itself. It’s nothing like making a jazz record,” An orchestra has its own rhythm, you have to understand how they breathe, says Cohen.
And now he has finally found an ensemble capable of providing this experience: the 92 talented women and men of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alexander Hanson. Cohen did not embark on this adventure alone: his trio includes two musicians for whom he is full of praise. Azerbaijani pianist Elchin Shirinov, who appeared on Cohen’s previous record, and New Jersey native drummer Mark Guiliana, with whom Cohen revolutionized the trio’s approach.
“I’ve basically devoted myself to the same songs my whole life,” admits Cohen, “which hasn’t prevented me from writing and learning new ones…” He explains that his arrangement in E major of “A Child Is Born,” by Thad Jones, now transposed to the symphonic scale, dates back to the time of his own International Vamp Band, in which he played primarily the piano. Two Roses, however, includes originals such as “When I’m Falling,” which testifies to the autobiographical dimension that his work has taken. “Hearing songs like ‘Morenika’ or ‘Puncha Puncha’ is like switching eras, finding yourself in a time when nothing is the same,”notes Cohen. The unfolding of Two Roses, in several respects, resembles the soundtrack of an epic film, at times tinged with nostalgia, carried elsewhere by a hectic and vibrant energy. On Two Roses, the only things that count are performance, emotion and the personal expression of a citizen of the world who sees music as his only true homeland.
Avishai Cohen, born in Kabri, Israel on April 20th, 1970, grew up in a multicultural family whose roots were found in Spain, Greece and Poland. At home, music was always in the air, with his mother Ora, an artistic influence, listening to both classical and traditional music. Avishai’s musical journey began when he was nine years old, when he began playing the piano. After moving to St. Louis, Missouri with his family aged fourteen, he continued to study the piano and began to play the bass guitar. The electric bass put a spell on him when his teacher introduced him to the music of luminary bassist Jaco Pastorius. Back in Israel, Avishai joined the Music and Arts Academy in Jerusalem to further explore the bass universe. At the age of 22, having served for two years in an army band, he decided to take a big step and moved to New York city.
Avishai arrived in a wintry New York, January 1992. Moving to the ‘Big Apple’ was a challenging decision, emotionally as well as professionally. The young Israeli had a tough beginning; performing on the streets and working in construction to get by. These small steps gave his music a unique sense of authenticity. He studied at the New School in New York City with such artists as Brad Mehldau and was soon to be performing and recording with Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez’ Trio, reflecting the essential role that Latin music played in Avishai’s early years whilst in New York.
In 1997 a call from Chick Corea changed everything. Avishai had passed one of Corea’s friends a demo tape without particular hope of being noticed. Chick listened to it in his car and called Avishai back a few weeks later, blown away by its freshness. As a member of “Chick Corea’s New Trio” and a co-founder of Corea’s ensemble, “Origin”, for over six years Avishai became an integral part of Chick’s music and received the opportunity to fine-tune his skills as a bassist and composer. Performing with Chick Corea played an important part in shaping his musicianship, which led Avishai to consider Chick as a teacher, colleague and friend.
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