The 'other' Avishai Cohen

Cohen's public profile recently moved up several notches in the epicenter of the jazz world, although not exactly in his main line of work.

avishai cohen 88 (photo credit: )
avishai cohen 88
(photo credit: )
Like all jazz musicians, trumpeter Avishai Cohen has a special grasp of time - and we're not just talking about musical tempo per se. Chronology, it seems, is open to interpretation. Consider Cohen's trilogy of albums that set out to portray a process of social evolution, tracking potential ecological upheavals and the estranging effects of modern living. "I wrote the last part of the trilogy first," states the 30-year-old New York-based Israeli artist, who begins a five-gig tour of the country this afternoon with his trio of long time collaborators drummer Daniel Friedman and pianist Yonatan Avishai. The three-CD series goes by the collective name of Big Rain Trilogy. That last-first part is called After the Big Rain and was followed recently by the release of the middle part Flood, the latter forming the basis for the repertoire of his Israeli tour. "It didn't start out as a trilogy," Cohen adds, "it just developed into that. I've still got to finish the first part some time." A degree of appellative bother notwithstanding, Cohen is doing alright for himself these days. Most jazz fans around the world, and even commercial music consumers in this part of the world, are well aware of the professional exploits of the trumpeter's better known bass-playing namesake. These days Cohen, the trumpeter, shrugs off that particular obstacle and just gets on with furthering his own artistic endeavor. "Being the 'other' Avishai Cohen, as it were, is a problem and there's nothing I can do about it," he declares philosophically. "I always have to deal with it. But more people are getting to know me, and it is getting easier." For a while he even went by the slightly extended moniker of "Avishai E. Cohen" but soon dropped the middle initial. Mind you, he is getting plenty of public exposure these days. Since moving to the Big Apple in January 1997 he's released four CDs as leader and three albums as a member of the highly popular Third World Love outfit (with Freedman and New York-based Israeli bassist Omer Avital). He's performed sideman duties with artists from a range of genres, including French-Israeli singer-songwriter Keren Ann, iconic Israeli rocker Shalom Hanoch and pop singer Assaf Amdursky. Add that to some soundtrack compositional efforts - including the movie American Gangster - and you get a well-rounded burgeoning artist. Cohen's public profile recently moved up several notches in the epicenter of the jazz world, although not exactly in his main line of work. Anyone passing through Times Square will catch an eyeful and earful of visual artist Elinor Milchan's Seven. Described as "an innovative public, multi-screen video installation," the celebration of light and the seven colors of the spectrum is displayed on the Time Square Building (the former New York Times building) 24/7/365. Cohen is responsible for the installation's soundtrack. "It's a sort of meditative thing," Cohen notes. "I had to remember that the music would be played the whole time and that people would hear it no matter which direction they were facing. I was careful to not create something too clear or catchy. I did not want people to be able to start humming it to themselves after a few minutes." That mirrors Cohen's musical ethos. His trumpet playing has rarely been of the in-your-face variety. Instead, he has generally tended to paint subtle colors, often using a mute in his horn. This softly, softly approach comes through in Big Rain. "The trilogy sort of reflects the way I look at the world and modern living. We all do texting and send emails. We don't even known how to be alone - say in a café - anymore. We take our laptops and cell phones. I'm part of this too. I'm no monk, especially living in New York. It's a global thing." Shortly after his tour here, Cohen is going to get away from the "global thing" on a two-month break in India. "We [Cohen, his wife and 2 year old daughter] are going to experience something else. There'll be no cell phone, no emails, just awareness." The Avishai Cohen Trio plays Herzliya's Zappa Club today at 2 p.m., Haifa's Martef 10 at 10 p.m. On Sunday and Tuesday they play Tel Aviv's Levontin 7 at 8:30 p.m. and at Jerusalem's Yellow Submarine on Monday at 9:30 p.m.