Cohen is certainly one of the notable jazz trumpeters around, an Israeli resident in the USA, active also on various peripheries of jazz, some of which appeal to me more than others. If I say that on this CD he might in various places have dispensed with electronics, that’s just to say he can come close to old masters of fingering with one hand, and plying cup, plunger, and other mutes with the other: co-ordinating movements of tongue and mute at each end of the horn, and the valves between.
He has a striking, hard bopper open sound, and can phrase with sublime lyricism through a harmon mute. Hear “Afterthoughts (Mozartine)” before Jason Lindner does a beautiful celeste-like thing on an electronic keyboard, initially with Omer Avital’s support on bass, and then Lionel Loueke’s guitar coming in with some of the fine single-note work a pianist’s right hand would do in an older style of rhythm section.
The bassist was, of course, himself already a mighty leader and composer in New York a dozen years back, before he headed off to Israel for some years. Since some tapes of live performances from back then came out very recently, this should no longer be a secret. It seems a major company gave him a contract those years ago, just as jazz CD sales dried up for the first time. Overall, CD sales had been boosted by people replacing their vinyl with the new medium, and thereafter sales dropped just in time to trap Avital’s contracted studio recordings in the can.
Lionel Loueke has very recently been surrounded with some of what has in other cases been hype as a young guitarist from Benin, with American academic credentials and a new contract with BlueNote. He’s good enough for it not to be hype. He also sings in Fon (the language into which Cohen’s words for the title song have been translated) and with the presence on four titles of Yosvany Terry on chekere, broad African currents do waft through the music here.
On “Meditation on Two Chords”, the trumpet does sound somewhere between rock guitar and kazoo, and on that one, too, the soft-voiced singer of “Gbede Temin” does impressively original, unhackneyed things on guitar, supported by the magisterial Avital bass and the ever-present subtleties of Freedman’s drums.
“African Daisy (La Suite Africaine)” dances with jerky accents, bare feet stomping, and like the closer, “After the Big Rain — Epilogue”, it gets up a fair forward pulse. Like “Parto Forte”, “Daisy” lasts more than eleven minutes, building a louder head of steam. On the former, Lindner comes out strong in solo on keyboards hoarsened with overload distortion. On “Daisy”, he achieves a sort of domestic steel drums swell and swing. The comparable peak of (non-noisy) excitement on “After the Big Rain — Epilogue” is some soft chanting from Loueke. It’s in general a very nice blend, with a fairly comprehensive display of Loueke’s considerable talents, mainstream jazz guitarist in ensemble and solo, innovative in all departments, already honed in work with Terence Blanchard, and very simpatico partner of Avital and Terry in excellent interplay.
The music by its nature involves a use of repetitions, which beside slanting on occasions toward rock, seems a standard mark of comtemporary jazz that attempts to remain generally approachable. While the repetitions aren’t necessarily repetitive or repetittious, they don’t involve quite the variety of new material of some of the hard bop Cohen can play with the masters. Here, too, they are redeemed by and large by the ingenuities of the rhythm or strings, keyboard and drums section, not least Loueke.