Tag Archives: Israel

Aurora – AVISHAI COHEN – 2009

Those of you who follow the blog (all three of you) will know that we have set ourselves upon completing the discographies of some of the more significant artists we have reviewed, before we move on to newer pastures. The latest in my sights is this, Cohen’s Aurora. For those of you who know enough about music will know that artists of such high caliber won’t ever come up with a steaming turd of an album. There will only be varying degrees of excellence. So let’s get hopes of an unnecessarily acerbic review out the window, shall we? Right.

Since I only have two other Cohen albums to reference this with, let me lay down the differences first. The biggest change is undoubtedly the introduction of vocals into the mix of the music, and it is a great change, by all means. It brings out Cohen‘s vastly eclectic tastes in music to the fore, since most folk music isn’t really instrumental, and only supports vocals.

And the songs which do use vocals thankfully don’t use very studio ready voices. They are quite raw and folksy, which is wonderful, and is a distinct change from the big(ish) band sound of At Home and the straight-up jazz trio that was Gently Disturbed. It is quite excellent, with the blend of Middle-Eastern Hebrew vocal harmonies mixing with jazzy piano to make a truly compelling record. “Morenika”, “El Hatzipor” and “Leolam” are all quite excellent. I’m sure there is a touch of African music as well, as I would have sworn I heard snatches of what could easily have ended up in a Salif Keita or Tinariwen record.

I would have sworn I heard snatches of what could easily have ended up in a Salif Keita or Tinariwen record.

The second big change is the scope of the record. Gently Disturbed was clearly a trio record and At Home a big band jazz record. Avishai Cohen is clearly staking his claim as a composer and not as a bass player. This is evident, because his albums have progressively featured less bass playing and more songs as a whole. Always a good thing, that.

I don’t really get the lyrics, but I’ve always maintained that music that is performed with some other language makes the voice itself like an instrument, which is a good thing. The irony here is that despite understanding the lyrics of “Winter Song” and “It’s been so long”, I like neither. That said, the latter has beautiful electric bass playing. Oh, and “Still” doesn’t cut it for me either.

Later on in the track listing, we have “Shir Preda”, which basically a piano-voice duo until a lovely electric bass solo in the end, and “Alfonsina”, which has a guy singing in Hebrew (presumably) with a BIG voice. Finally, we have my favourite track of the album, “Noches Noches”, which despite the silly sounding name, sounds haunting and beautiful and like an invocation of Christ’s second coming, or something. Fantastic.

His best album so far.

I said earlier that Cohen has definitely shifted his focus from being a bass player to being a composer, and draws liberally from his own identity of being from Israel, which is quite at the crossroads of Asiatic, European and African culture. The resulting mix is his best album so far. This sounds very right.

-El Bajista




At Home – AVISHAI COHEN – 2004

Ah, completionism! The refuge of the ones without enough to call their own. The domain of the nerd. The zone of no return for those who choose to have something just because enough isn’t enough. Even so, it is also the scourge of the flighty, the oft distracted and musically unfocussed. For that last reason alone, I choose to be a completionist. And..err.. because Baba T and me chose to fill out our burgeoning categories of music before moving on to newer artists. Anyway, so here I am, aspiring to complete Avishai Cohen‘s (not insignificant) contributions to the world of arty-farty jazz music.

“Madrid” is probably the most immediately likeable track here, with a strong central melodic theme and with the obnoxious snaps and ticks of upright bass soloing replaced by wholesome bottom end goodness.

The other Cohen album I review recently (Gently Disturbed), is much more sparse in terms of arrangements. That was just a bass-piano-drums trio thing. Here we have the piano and bass and drums holding the fort down while assorted flautists are being flute-like and horn players are being…err….horny. Also there is not so much ‘drums’ as there is ‘percussion’. Witness the African touch throughout “Leh-Lah” and the incredible drum n’ bass like speedery on “Renoufs Last Tooth “. The Parkinsons-meets-ADHD drumming continues on “Gershon Beat”, which is insane by all yardsticks that I have heard till now. Drummers, this one is for you.

“Remembering” starts to bring forth a beautiful, lilting piano melody ably pushed along by the bass and percussion. Impressive shit. That said, this piano player, Sam Barsh, has none of the melodic grandeur and tug-the-heartstrings finish of the piano player in Gently Disturbed, Shai Maestro. I suspect this is purely because Shai Maestro has the most awesome name in the history of history besides John Rambo. Anyway, it is clear that Sam Barsh is the accompaniment player in this trio, and not the seed from which the songs spring. Of course, there are a few cuts where he exhibits his considerably skill on the piano such as (the not at all punk) “Punk”, but he is clearly not the star here. That title goes to percussionist Mark Giuiliana and the ensemble cast of flautists and horn players. Its a surprising deviation from the usual jazz norm.

He might seem happy on the upright, but he is pure 0wnage on the electric bass.

The other major surprise is “Saba” which has the most amazing electric bass solo by Cohen. FINALLY, the man shows his chops on the electric bass. Why doesn’t he always play the it!? This is an excellent example of a chopsy, sinewy, very well thought out solo. Do listen. The rest of the tracks are all so-so, and sometimes tend to veer into easy-listening which, children, is not on for a jazz stalwart. The whole vibe of the record is quite relaxed, and even on a bad day, I couldn’t call this a shit record. Some cuts are great, some are not so great. I won’t be coming back to this again, but this generally sounds right.

-El Bajista




Gently Disturbed – AVISHAI COHEN TRIO – 2008

Due to various intervening circumstances (such as chronic procrastination on my part), I’ve been putting off this review for a while. But now I’ve finally got around to reviewing this. I’ve already heard this more than a few times, which is my usual pre-review hearing. Most of you who will be familiar reading this will be fairly well versed in jazz, so I disclaim that I don’t know much about it. Nevertheless, I do know good music when I hear it.

Jazzers with a leather jackets!

So, is this?

Yep. Very much. Avishai Cohen is called by many as ‘the best jazz bass player’ or one of the best. That’s fine, but I still haven’t warmed much to the upright acoustic bass’ sound, especially high on the fingerboard. Not on. Otherwise, he is great. Good groover and all that, and even managed to make the high note thing sound cool on “Chutzpan”. It’s all right, Hindi speaking readers….even I sniggered at that name. The star of the trio however, is undoubtedly the piano player Shai Maestro (that is his name). Fantastic sense of melody, and an amazing grasp of mad rhythms. Check out “Pinzin Kinzin” for some mind****ing right-left hand jobbery.

The star of the trio however, is undoubtedly the piano player Shai Maestro

And melody? Absolutely stunning, touching stuff. Listen to “Eleven Wives” for simplicity, and “Seattle” for complex chord changes. “Eleven Wives” is also notable for great breaks from Avishai Cohen. But listen to them all, I say. This is quite a must listen. Not only that, I also think this is a good intro into jazz as a whole.

It’s not entirely perfect. I mean some of the tracks are boring as only jazz can be boring. Ironically for such a good album, it’s the title track that is the weakest (“Gently Disturbed”). But because of the caliber of the musicians involved, it’s not a steaming pile of sh** that some lesser musicians can come up with. It’s just that it doesn’t match up to the rest.

Even so, as a whole, I think this sounds very right.


-El Bajista

JAZZ farts? Right THIS WAY.


Blackfield II – BLACKFIELD – 2007

Right. My second Blackfield album in two days rounds off their discography. This one is substantially different from the first album, in that it doesn’t sound as much like a bunch of Porcupine Tree outtakes. This is primarily because Aviv Geffen finally woke up and decided it was time to contribute.

More tea, Vicar?

One thing I’ve noticed about Blackfield is that they take garden variety chord-changes and keep them fresh, constantly fiddling about with arrangements, instruments etc. That’s just as well, because this second album is more ‘commercial’ sounding that Blackfield I. Think Third Eye Blind-ish guitars and Radiohead-like arrangements. Don’t take this as a criticism, just as an aesthetic chosen by the artists. There is notably lesser use of acoustic guitars (particularly the scratching sound made on the strings when strumming), and more electric guitars.
It was not until ‘Miss U’ that I first noticed that the song was being sung with an accent. I realized that this was the first time I was able to distinguish between the Wilson and Geffen!! The voices of Steven Wilson and Aviv Geffen (yes, he has the same name as Guns’ n’ Roses’ label) are VERY similar. Too similar, according to me. But the accent is welcome, as is Geffen’s greater role in this release, with ‘Miss U’ and ‘Where is my Love’ being standouts.
Compared to the music in the first album, this one is notably less ‘dramatic’ sounding, lacking the motifs that regularly punctuated the first album. This one focuses on smoother and less choppy arrangement. Again, this isn’t a criticism of either album, just an aesthetic. Its evidence of Blackfield wanting to move away from the heavy stylings of Porcupine Tree during its Fear of a Blank Planet era. In fact the distortion guitars are all but absent. Me? I much prefer the first album already.
What I have by way of a general criticism of Blackfield in general and Steven Wilson’s music in general: Its all wonderfully produced and all, but I miss music that is more ‘raw’ and less produced. And less gloomy. By means of further criticism, there are too many mid-tempo songs here.
It’s a good album, but the strings and pianos become hackneyed halfway through, and are not terribly innovative. Yes, that’s it. This album lacks innovation. Compared to the first Blackfield album, I find a curious dearth of attention grabbing innovation here. This is supposed to have proper ‘songs’ and not drone/ambient music. So some motifs are needed. On the other hand, while the first album had the necessary pluck, it had too much of Porcupine Tree in it. A frankenstien of these two albums, I think, would be great. That’s not happening, sadly, so I’ll have to say I prefer the first album. Though quite uninspiring, this generally sounds right.

- El Bajista

You want more of this BLACKFIELD doohickey? Go HERE.



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