A year after his impressionistic, critically-lauded ECM debut Into The Silence, Avishai Cohen’s Cross My Palm With Silver introduces a programme of new pieces which put the focus on the ensemble, on teamwork, with an exceptional quartet. The adroit interplay among the musicians allows Avishai Cohen to soar, making it clear why the pure-toned trumpeter is one of the most talked-about jazz musicians on the contemporary scene.
“All of these people together are my dream team”, says Cohen of fellow players Yonathan Avishai, Barak Mori and Nasheet Waits, who share his sense for daring improvisation and his feeling for structure. “I feel we’re in a perfect place with the balance. It’s open and there’s so much room for the improvisation to take the music any place we can. At the same time the composition is very specific and the vibe is very direct and thought about.” Cohen praises drummer Nasheet Waits, a musical partner for more than a decade, for “allowing the music to grow in an amazing way. I’ve never heard him play the same thing twice. A groove or beat never sounds the same. Spending time on the road with him is always inspiring. For me, he is a real link to the tradition and to the masters.”
The arrival of bassist Barak Mori, a friend since high school days, has “tied the band together,” says Cohen: “His swing feel is incredible. Every little note he plays is so clear and so pretty.” Pianist Yonathan Avishai is Cohen’s “musical brother – a big part of my musical journey” – they started out together in Tel Aviv, aged 12, and through formative years “played everything from Ornette Coleman music to standards, Gershwin and Duke, always trying to go deeper. Never taking things for granted, keeping the search active.”
The quartet spent much of last year on the road and, shortly before the recording session in September 2016, Cohen began to ease the material he had been writing since Into The Silence into the live set. Into The Silence had been a very personal statement, written soon after the death of Cohen’s father. Its reflections on mortality were conveyed with an expressive grace and yearning lyricism that struck a responsive chord with many listeners. This time there was no over-arching thematic concept: “But I still used the same rules I’d given myself for the first album,” Cohen says. “Which were: to stay attuned to the current situation in my life and not go back to any older material of mine.”
Avishai Cohen wrote the music in Israel, the political climate in the Middle East and elsewhere inducing a familiar sense of helplessness. Like Mingus or Max Roach before him, Cohen uses his song titles to point to injustices at home and abroad as a small gesture of dissent. Meanwhile the beauty of the music makes its own argument.
“I’m affected by what happens in my country and in the world…And by how politics divides us as people. At least to me, this music raises some question about what it is we are here to do. There’s a beautiful phrase in Judaism: if you save one soul it’s as if you saved the whole world. Change should start from there. Each of us should do whatever we can to be compassionate. I don’t know how much the music represents that, but that’s what I was feeling when I was writing it.”
As with Into The Silence, Cross My Palm With Silver was produced by Manfred Eicher at Studios La Buissonne in the south of France. It is issued on the eve of a major European tour, with concerts in France, Italy, Spain, Luxembourg, Great Britain, Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands.