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Avishai Cohen with Nitai Hershkovitz Duende Review

Album. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

Top-flight musicianship shines, but everything’s a little too neat on these duets.

Daniel Spicer 2012

If jazz is an art form based on surprise and discovery, spontaneity and intuition, then there’s something remarkably un-jazz-like about Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen’s 13th album.

These nine duets, recorded with young fellow-countryman, pianist Nitai Hershkovitz, display a considered poise and calculated elegance more akin to classical piano music. In fact, in places, these originals – as well as the reinterpretations of standards by Thelonius Monk, John Coltrane and Cole Porter – sound more like one of French pianist Jacques Loussier’s jazz makeovers of the work of Bach or Debussy.

It’s partly to do with the arrangements. The absence of a drummer imbues the music with a hushed, studious intimacy while simultaneously robbing it of any urgency, any fire, or any sense of, yes, let’s call it swing.

And it’s partly a result of the way Cohen plays his instrument: with an unerring melodic accuracy that’s always deeply, firmly, resolutely "in." If this album were a colouring book, there would be not even the slightest speck of ink straying over the lines.

And sometimes, frankly, you want a bit of mess. Take, for instance, the duo’s reworking of Monk’s gloriously eccentric, beautifully shambling, beatifically hip classic Criss Cross. There’s not even of the slightest hint of Monk’s Zen-like hesitations and in-the-moment joie de vivre. Instead, all of Cohen’s notes – both in the strident arco head and the briskly plucked walking choruses – are bold, confident, sharply defined brushstrokes, while Hershkovitz’s solo displays a silky sophistication that seems to miss the off-beat humour of Monk’s composition. It’s all just a little too neat.

None of which is to deny that there’s some top-flight musicianship at work here. Hershkovitz is a genuine prodigy – still only in his mid-20s but already playing with relaxed authority. And Cohen commands a fairly astonishing post-John Patitucci digital dexterity that explains why he’s one of the hottest tickets on the corporate global jazz stage today. But some will prefer the back-street stumblers over this sort of precision any day.

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