Avishai Cohen and Yonatan Avishai
Imagine a chance encounter with a dear, old friend, someone you've
known since childhood but haven't seen in ages. That warm sense of
familiarity and the inseparable curious anticipation to hear all about
where they were, what they've been up to, and what the future holds for
them is how jazz lovers might feel when they hear an old standard
And so the dozens of Jerusalemites who gathered in the Yellow Submarine
last Wednesday were excited not only because they were about to enjoy a
collection of oldies by the likes of Cole Porter and George Gershwin,
but perhaps even more so by the notion of gauging the contemporary
pulse of jazz through the talent of two outstanding performers, Avishai
Cohen (trumpet) and Yonatan Avishai (piano).
The Porter composition "In the Still of the Night," written for the
in 1937, was the pair's first
selection. The two, who also comprise half of the successful Third
World Love combo, which mixes anything African, Arab, Spanish, Israeli,
Jewish or otherwise into a delicious and satisfying jazz-based
cocktail, have extensive track records as versatile performers and
improvisers, and the audience, perched on the plastic chairs facing the
stage, was ready for any musical adventure. But what Cohen and Avishai
chose to serve was an accurate, deliberate and mostly contained
rendition of the piece, with barely any harmonic, melodic or rhythmic
deviation from the song as Porter wrote it.
"It had to be you" by Isham Jones followed, with the piano and trumpet
maintaining the same discipline and not indulging in any perceivable
solo. In Gershwin's "Our Love is Here to Stay," Cohen and Avishai
conducted a dialogue through their instruments, but still didn't stray
too far from the 1937 composition.
By that point, it was beginning to sink in - the gig was not going to
be about showcasing the duo's talents, but rather about the music
written some 70 years ago by a few of North America's greatest
composers, melodies that were canonized by jazz musicians as standards
and performed ceaselessly since.
The accessible yet intricate tunes,
originally written for films and musicals, are good enough to have
survived everything from bebop to hip hop, and the performers seemed
bent on simply mediating the music to an appreciative crowd.
There was nothing technical or boring in the performance, however.
Instead of heaping an abundance of ideas, themes and colors on the
audience, Cohen and Avishai played each note and bar with the intensity
and meaningfulness usually typical of non-improvising vocalists,
thankfully without the original lyrics, which do not always complement
the level of the music.
Here and there the players introduced a bit more self-expression, such
as in Avishai's improvisation to Porter's "True Love," or in the
delightful trumpet solo to Gershwin's "It ain't necessarily so," in
which Cohen deftly bent, muted and stretched the song's chromatic
descents with a rubber toilet plunger. Part of the delight in the
trumpet work throughout the entire evening derived from Cohen's soft
and accurate touch, which made the potentially abrasive instrument
sound as soft and husky as he wanted.
There were moments in the hour-long performance in which it sounded,
felt and even appeared like a Woody Allen film, as my wise and
perspicacious companion and I agreed in a short series of whispers. The
maker of Manhattan, Sweet and Lowdown
and Stardust Memories
would have doubtlessly also
enjoyed hearing the music played in such a loyal and respectful manner.