Concert Review: Avishai Cohen and Yonatan Avishai

Two virtuoso jazz musicians serve Jerusalemites a straightforward rendition of American classics.

February 15, 2010 14:59
2 minute read.


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Avishai Cohen and Yonatan Avishai

Yellow Submarine

Jerusalem January 6

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 performed live.

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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 film Rosalie 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.

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