When Bass Musician Magazine heard that Bassist Avishai Cohen was coming to our neck of the woods, we promptly jumped on the opportunity to experience his talent first-hand and in-person. We had hoped to get a video interview but due to Avishai’s already exhausting schedule on his current world tour, we completely understood that it just wasn’t in the cards.
We interviewed Israeli born Avishai in our Premier issue back in 2007. We have always recognized that this musician is a force of nature and we have known him to be one of the few individuals that can effectively double-up on upright as well as electric bass. For this particular show, he dedicated the evening exclusively to upright with a turn of the ivories at the end of the night, as this multi-talented performer plays piano as well!
The setting… The opening performance for the 2011 Portland Jazz Festival at the Winningstad Theater located in the Portland Center for Performing Arts. The main theme of this series is, ”Bridges and Boundaries, Jewish and African Americans Playing Jazz together”. The Winningstad Theater is an intimate setting with a maximum capacity of 292 seats formatted to resemble the Shakespearian Bard or “Black Box” style theater; a perfect venue for the performance.
Avishai embraced the audience, even having a moment towards the very beginning where one of the patron’s cell phones went off… he charmingly advised the person to, “Answer it, as it has happened to all of us.” And continued his conversational tone with us throughout the night as he explained what the songs were about and a bit of the history (i.e. Two Roses) as told to him by his mother.
The program was mostly music from Avishai’s most recent release, “Aurora.” (Which I just happen to be listening to while writing this review) There was a very nice mixture of original and traditional tunes, and even though this CD falls within the realm of “Jazz”, there is more of a World Music vibe going on here. And for those that know me and have followed my reviews, you can understand why this particular concert spoke volumes to me on many levels… Not only does the music bring us stories of the desert, life, love, youth and freedom, it also reached across the seas to include a tune made popular by Argentine vocalist Mercedes Sosa, Alfonsina Y El Mar.
The musical roots deeply set in the Arab-Andalusian and Hebraic cultures predominantly influence the theme of both the program and CD. As if it wasn’t enough that Avishai is an amazing bassist, he sings in Hebrew, English, Spanish and Ladino while he plays! Avishai has selected an amazing group of musicians from Tel Aviv to bring this music to life. Amos Hoffman plays Guitar and Oud (A traditional middle eastern lute), Karen Malka on vocals, Shari Maestro on piano and Itmar Doari on “Creative Percussion” (an impressive battery of Cajon, bells, cymbals, gourde, shells, drums and more).
Avishai Cohen’s performance is flawless and so energized that many times he is balanced on the balls off his feet like he would take flight. The very tight group of his fellow musicians displayed their amazing talent and they all fed off of each other’s energy… Yes, Avishai’s solo piece of vocals and bass were beautifully haunting in Alfonsina Y El Mar and yet he is equally as brilliant as the leader of this synergistic blend of talent.
This concert is a must see if it comes to your part of the world (Check www.avishaimusic.com for dates and locations) and if not, the CD Aurora is equally a masterpiece in it’s own right although not ever as exciting as a live performance!