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Bassist Avishai Cohen’s compositions tend to open with clearly stated piano chords in a well signposted sequence or a strong, much-repeated riff. Once established, these simple beginnings are elaborated 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”.
Although 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 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 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 over a succession of looped sequences, creating interest by trading phrases, breaking down into duets and accelerating into dramatic crescendi.
Cohen as leader was naturally to the fore, although never so much as to interfere with the bass player’s traditional role as timekeeper. His solos mix dexterity and showmanship neatly 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 press-rolls and broken beats were a highlight. He knuckles down to the bread and butter timekeeping quieter passages demand, before unleashing a barrage of off-centre syncopations. The pianist Shai Maestro, still only 20, joined Cohen last year and doesn’t quite live up to his family name, although 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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