Concert review: Avishai Cohen

Israeli jazz bassist Avishai Cohen  (photo credit: GAUTHIER VANDEMOORTELE / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Israeli jazz bassist Avishai Cohen
Ask most people to name a jazz bassist and replies are likely to be scarce. After some thought, some might dredge up the likes of Charles Mingus or Jaco Pastorius.
But you can’t keep a good man down. In 1992, Avishai Cohen arrived in New York to hone his craft.
In 1997, his demo tape caught the ear of jazz legend Chick Corea. Following several years in Corea’s band, Cohen built his reputation as one of the leading jazz bassists worldwide.
Tonight, he’s back in his homeland. The Zappa club is appropriately bathed in blue light. A synth kicks in, pan flute underpinned by deep bass. Keyboardist Shai Bachar sings through a vocoder (think Daft Punk). The imposing Cohen stands in the middle, bowing his double bass. He sings, drops the bow, and delivers a trademark solo. We have arrived, but it’s not clear where.
After a stint on electric bass, which Cohen seems to treat as a distraction rather than a foundation, he moves to a keyboard, handing bass duties over to Israeli-Moroccan guitarist Marc Kakon. Playing “Motherless Child,” from Cohen’s latest album, 1970, the syrup is thick. The album is a change in direction, swapping innovation and edginess for a smoother feel.
Cohen introduces the band, also including singer Karen Malka and drummer Noam Raviv. He tells us that this is their first concert together, which explains the tightness and lack of interplay.
During “New York Where I Belong” (no offense taken), the vocoder stops working. Bachar looks frustrated, but it’s a blessing. The groove is challenging and angular, and one hopes for an exploration, until Kakon raps in French.
Next up is “Song of Hope,” with its staccato riff that could sneak into a metal track if it had any attitude.
Cohen delivers safe lyrics, plinking around on keyboard. Please, Avishai, there’s a bass over there behind you.
The band departs, Cohen serenading from the piano. Returning to the bass, he delivers a blistering, sensitive solo. An Ampeg amplifier, more suited to rock, compresses the sound, adding an edge but blurring nuance.
They return, Kakon launching into an Santana-lite riff. At last there’s a hint of communication between Cohen and Raviv, but the drums merely keep time for Cohen’s pyrotechnics. We’re in psuedo-Latin territory, more Sex and the City than Tito Puente.
For the encore, Cohen announces that they’ll replay a song because it’s their first time together.
It might have been better to call it a night. One wonders if this is part rehearsal for his upcoming tour.
Cohen’s diverse talent attracts a wide audience, some of whom are probably waiting for the return of his jazz trio. He breathes musicality with the best, and it would be unrealistic to expect everything he touches to be an odyssey. It’s hard to say if this latest direction is going to be a long-term source of artistic inspiration, but as any virtuoso knows, the journey is a marathon, not a sprint.