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Bassist Avishai Cohen’s compositions tend to open with a few, clearly stated piano chords in a well signposted sequence or a strong much-repeated riff. Once firmly established, these simple beginnings are elaborated in great detail by his close-knit acoustic piano trio’s rippling dynamics and moments of individual virtuosity. A bit like musical exercises, the overall tone was neatly captured by the title of the last number of their first set, “The Ever Evolving Etude”.
Though noticeably short on melody, Cohen’s trademark mix of classical fugue, skittery dance rhythms and Israeli references still excites. The musical pathways are clearly marked – much appreciated by this crowded Ronnie Scott’s audience – and the band play with energy and commitment. And unusually for an acoustic bass player, Cohen is a good showman, his enthusiastic body language alone giving the evening a focus over and above the rhythmic intricacies of a contemporary jazz piano trio.
Both sets opened with simple three-note motifs introduced by the bass – plucked in the first bowed in the second – and climaxed with full-on features for drums and piano. In between, the trio worked as an exemplary unit, extemporising empathetically over a succession of looped sequences, creating extra interest by trading phrases, breaking down into duets and accelerating into dramatic crescendi.
Cohen as leader was naturally to the fore, though never so much as to interfere with the bass player’s traditional role as timekeeper and anchor. His solos mix light-fingered dexterity and showmanship neatly – he likes to slap the body of his bass for added rhythmic effect – and he was rock-solid when drums or piano took the spotlight.
New York drummer Mark Guiliana, who has been with Cohen since 2003, is more self-effacing, but his whirlwind press-rolls and broken beats were a real highlight. He impressively knuckles down to the bread and butter time-keeping that the quieter passages demand, before unleashing a barrage of off-centre syncopations. Pianist Shai Maestro, still only 20, joined Cohen last year and doesn’t quite live up to his family name, though he revealed a fiery edge to his schooled virtuosity on the second set’s newer material. Most impressive though, was the way the three musicians complemented each other to transcend somewhat limited material.
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