Avishai Cohen Naked Truth
Review by Lisa Sahulka
"...lend your ears to music, open your eyes to painting, and … stop thinking! Just ask yourself whether the work has enabled you to "walk about" into a hitherto unknown world. If the answer is yes, what more do you want?
- Wassily Kandinsky
Avishai Cohen, the trumpeter from Tel Aviv and now New York based, takes the work of Miles Davis in a parallel but similar direction. Miles Davis wanted crowds and more accessible music but always at the core he was interpreting emotions. Cohen is doing the same thing in reverse, using his trumpet to express emotion in a way less accessible, but more stream of consciousness, dream state.
When Davis went into the studio to produce Kind of Blue, the space he gave his musicians to improvise was legendary. In a similar way, Cohen has brought musicians together to improvise emotions, the songs are simply “Part 1,” “Part 2,” and so on. We get more information in the last tune, which is also a spoken word composition. In this space, it is interesting to think where Davis might have gone if he did not head towards fusion and intriguing to think what Cohen is doing in this improvisational, dream-like space. It is so haunting and so personal.
Cohen and the jazz pianist Yonathan Avishai are middle school friends who grew up together as children in Israel. Their bond has the effect of making the trumpet/piano pairing into a singular instrument. On previous albums they have covered Duke Ellington, Stevie Wonder and Abdullah Ibrahim. "Kofifi Blue" for example, is an Ibrahim masterpiece, on Cape Town Flowers, a 1977 release - a reference to a suburb in Johannesburg, South Africa destroyed under apartheid and then rebuilt in 2006.
Cohen brings the drummer, Ziv Ravitz, one of the quartet who also appeared in his group Big Vicious. On Naked Truth Cohen reimagines the title track by the English trip hop group Massive Attack.
The songs bring familiar ideas to those immersed in 21st Century jazz, but in a fresh way that expresses a deep understanding of the language of jazz and how to cast and recast it into a private conversation among a small group of friends. The album is expertly recorded, which lends to the intimacy. There are never giant leaps of emotions but more a dialogue in a tiny bistro, voices lowered so other customers will not hear the discussion.
The final tune on the album lets us into this discussion. Cohen reads (in English translation) “Departure,” a poem by the late Israeli poet Zelda Schneurson Mishkovsky. Widely known in Israel as Zelda, her poems are deeply spiritual and this particular piece delves into the act of dying as a series of departures. First we leave “the splendor of the skies and the colors of earth.” Bassist Barak Mori adds a particularly beautiful background to this somber ending. Cohen reads:
Part from all work and art, from rituals, from rain and from all that is pleasing to the eye
It is necessary to part from Knowing-Good-and-Evil of this world, since other terms of good and evil are there.
Without musical accompaniment, Cohen reads the chilling final line, a collective naked truth.
And before the end, to live with the fear of their death, and the certainty of my own.
It is a lovely conclusion to a largely meditative album.