Concert Review: Avishai Cohen and Yonatan Avishai

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

Avishai Cohen and Yonatan Avishai

Yellow Submarine

JerusalemJanuary 6
Imagine a chance encounter with a dear, old friend, someone you'veknown since childhood but haven't seen in ages. That warm sense offamiliarity and the inseparable curious anticipation to hear all aboutwhere they were, what they've been up to, and what the future holds forthem is how jazz lovers might feel when they hear an old standardperformed live.
And so the dozens of Jerusalemites who gathered in the Yellow Submarinelast Wednesday were excited not only because they were about to enjoy acollection of oldies by the likes of Cole Porter and George Gershwin,but perhaps even more so by the notion of gauging the contemporarypulse of jazz through the talent of two outstanding performers, AvishaiCohen (trumpet) and Yonatan Avishai (piano).
The Porter composition "In the Still of the Night," written for thefilm Rosalie in 1937, was the pair's firstselection. The two, who also comprise half of the successful ThirdWorld Love combo, which mixes anything African, Arab, Spanish, Israeli,Jewish or otherwise into a delicious and satisfying jazz-basedcocktail, have extensive track records as versatile performers andimprovisers, and the audience, perched on the plastic chairs facing thestage, was ready for any musical adventure. But what Cohen and Avishaichose to serve was an accurate, deliberate and mostly containedrendition of the piece, with barely any harmonic, melodic or rhythmicdeviation from the song as Porter wrote it.
"It had to be you" by Isham Jones followed, with the piano and trumpetmaintaining the same discipline and not indulging in any perceivablesolo. In Gershwin's "Our Love is Here to Stay," Cohen and Avishaiconducted a dialogue through their instruments, but still didn't straytoo far from the 1937 composition.By that point, it was beginning to sink in - the gig was not going tobe about showcasing the duo's talents, but rather about the musicwritten some 70 years ago by a few of North America's greatestcomposers, melodies that were canonized by jazz musicians as standardsand performed ceaselessly since.
The accessible yet intricate tunes,originally written for films and musicals, are good enough to havesurvived everything from bebop to hip hop, and the performers seemedbent 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 theaudience, Cohen and Avishai played each note and bar with the intensityand meaningfulness usually typical of non-improvising vocalists,thankfully without the original lyrics, which do not always complementthe level of the music.
Here and there the players introduced a bit more self-expression, suchas in Avishai's improvisation to Porter's "True Love," or in thedelightful trumpet solo to Gershwin's "It ain't necessarily so," inwhich Cohen deftly bent, muted and stretched the song's chromaticdescents with a rubber toilet plunger. Part of the delight in thetrumpet work throughout the entire evening derived from Cohen's softand accurate touch, which made the potentially abrasive instrumentsound 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 andperspicacious companion and I agreed in a short series of whispers. Themaker of Manhattan, Sweet and Lowdown and Stardust Memories would have doubtlessly alsoenjoyed hearing the music played in such a loyal and respectful manner.