Manfred Eicher, visionary founder of Munich’s boundary-busting ECM Records, once described a band led by the Tel Aviv-born, New York-honed trumpeter/composer Avishai Cohen as “one big octopus.” Eicher noticed that Cohen conjures bands in which the participants are individual limbs that react spontaneously within an ineffable group mind, yet never lose their individuality – much like the band-leading methods of Miles Davis, Cohen’s key model. Naked Truth is a barely-40-minute miniature of an album, beautifully executed and steered by the idea that improvising musicians good enough to play any headlong stream of consciousness can reveal a lot more if they sometimes play only a fraction of what they know.
In the first lockdown, Cohen focused on tiny fragments of melody that formed the cues of this nine-part improvised suite. When he took them to the studio with longtime allies Yonathan Avishai (piano), Barak Mori (bass) and Ziv Ravitz (drums), leaving out whatever felt superfluous was the rule. Cohen’s soft, perfectly rounded notes, leaning graceful lullabies into Mori’s plummy bass sound, give way to gentle piano ostinatos coaxed by whispering cymbals that build a rising insistence; elegantly classical modulations over mallet rolls resolve in mournful high-pitched horn lines and startlingly nimble runs; almost ceremonial bugle-like calls turn to quivering laments.
At the close, Cohen evocatively reads Israeli poet Zelda Schneurson Mishkovsky’s Departure, a cherishing of small miracles within the ostensibly familiar that he’s very good at himself. Listeners all the way from Davis’s muted-trumpet soliloquies on 1960’s Sketches of Spain to Tord Gustavsen’s meticulous 21st-century ensemble jazz (in which every delicate drum hit sounds spontaneous and inevitable) will find plenty they recognise – and more besides – in Cohen’s quietest but maybe boldest adventure.
Also out this month
Cecil Taylor, the technically awesome, stylistically and temperamentally uncategorisable African American piano virtuoso, died in 2018. Four years later, much of a previously lost November 1973 concert at New York City’s town hall (originally sidelined because one track runs to 88 minutes) has emerged as The Complete, Legendary, Live Return Concert (Oblivion Records), a historic digital-only addition to Taylor’s discography. A brilliant quartet comprising regulars Jimmy Lyons (alto sax), Sirone (bass) and Andrew Cyrille (drums) finds the implacable master in blistering form. UK pianist Kit Downes unveils a terrific acoustic trio of cool fluency and conversational ease (including an oblique view of Jimi Hendrix’s Castles Made of Sand) with bassist Petter Eldh and drummer James Maddren on Vermillion (ECM), New York-based saxophone/drums pairing of Ingrid Laubrock and Tom Rainey step up a gear with the arrival of young bassist Brandon Lopez on No Es La Playa (Intakt), and free-sax legend Evan Parker veers in and out of abstraction and classic themes by Monk and Billy Strayhorn with bassist Dave Green’s trio on Raise Four (Trio Records).