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Triveni II

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Tuesday October 30, 2012

Trumpeter Avishai Cohen, voted a Rising Star in this year’s DownBeat Critics Poll, releases Triveni II in October 2012 via Anzic Records. It’s his second album with Triveni – his bold, electrifying trio with double-bassist Omer Avital and drummer Nasheet Waits. Triveni II is the follow-up to Introducing Triveni, which New York City Jazz Record called “easily one of the best jazz recordings of 2010.” Both albums were recorded in the same blockbuster two-day session in Brooklyn, with Triveni II featuring not only exciting originals by Cohen but inspired interpretations of tunes by Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman. One of the Coleman pieces has never been recorded before, with the iconic saxophonist teaching the tune directly to Cohen in his Manhattan apartment. Sparks fly on each of the 10 viscerally recorded tracks as Cohen, Avital and Waits engage in interplay that is as fleet as it is muscular, as progressive as it is full of soul.

Triveni II is Cohen’s sixth album as a leader, with this band a vehicle for high-energy improvisation after several recordings that focused more on composition and multicultural grooves (including the Anzic releases Flood and Before the Rain). The trio’s name refers to the Triveni Sangam, a religious location in India where three rivers meet – the Ganges, Yamuna and mystical Saraswati. It is a place of confluence, a setting for communing with the magical. “That references how we three meet in a certain musical place and something special arises,” Cohen says, though he adds that any mystical ideal turned into utterly organic reality in the moment. “We recorded old-school, with no separation, without headphones. We just stepped up and hit it live, finished one tune and onto the next – with an audience in the studio with us part of the time. After my first album, I went on a little trip outside of the jazz tradition, exploring West African music. So I began to really miss free blowing – just digging in and swinging hard. That’s what Triveni is all about.”

Burning from the get-go, Triveni II opens with two Cohen originals: the tune-rich thriller “Safety Land” and mischievous, hard-swinging “BR Story,” both tracks setting the album’s tone of virtuosic interactivity, free-wheeling yet focused. The Cohen originals also include the reflective groover “November 30th” (dedicated to the trumpeter’s mother) and gutbucket “Get Blue,” vessels for the trumpeter’s lyrical and earthy sides, by turns.

The two Ornette Coleman numbers include one from his Prime Time songbook (“Music News”) and “Following the Sound,” a piece played live but as yet unrecorded by its composer; one or the other of the Coleman tunes was initially going to be used for the album, but the composer’s enthusiastic “blessing” encouraged Cohen to include both. Coleman’s longtime partner Don Cherry is represented with “Art Deco (alternate take),” a different pass on a tune included on Introducing Triveni. The Mingus composition is the melodious early ballad “Portrait,” while Gillespie’s bebop standard “Woody n’ You” demonstrates how the Cohen-Avital-Waits unit can swing while still giving the material a left-of-center spin. The album’s centerpiece is the pop standard “Willow Weep for Me,” with Cohen riffing off the melody in a way that is simultaneously playful and deep. Cohen says: “My approach to this trio has been to challenge ourselves to stay lyrical and true, to balance freedom with self-restraint. The discipline of that is an art itself.”

Reviewing the Triveni band live at the Jazz Standard, The New York Times praised Cohen as “an extravagantly skilled trumpeter, relaxed and soulful. . . deftly combining sensitivity and flair.” Throughout Triveni II, Cohen’s playing has a hugely expressive palette, replete with vivid smears and rhythmic stutters, darting cries and legato melody. Trumpet-led trios have been a relative rarity in jazz, and Cohen explains why: “It’s a real challenge physically for the trumpeter, as there’s just so much blowing. Your chops really have to be in order. But I love the freedom that comes from playing without a chordal instrument, as well as taking the responsibility of leading without another horn.”

Cohen’s rhythmic partners – Avital big-toned, funky and melodic a la Mingus, Waits as dizzyingly inventive as he is swinging – could hardly be more attuned to the trumpeter’s sensibility. “I’ve been playing with Omer for so long that we have total rapport,” Cohen says. “We can hear where each other is going harmonically and vibe-wise, and our feel for time is hand in glove. He’s an incredible bassist and musician, almost like a second horn player he’s so melodic. With Nasheet, it’s different: He’s a mystery to me, always surprising. He’s such a force, an incredible drummer who never plays anything but the music itself. No ‘licks,’ no nonsense. But I never know where he’s going, so every show with him keeps me jumping.”

Cohen adds: “It’s interesting and cool the way the English word for `playing’ a musical instrument is the same as `playing’ with a toy. It does feel like we’re playing in both senses – we’re free physically and with our imaginations, free in the moment. Triveni feels good.”