Music & Conversation with Avishai Cohen

The Avishai Cohen Trio’s music takes listeners on a moving, high energy roller coaster ride. The group took part in the TD Toronto Jazz Festival in a concert at St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts on Thursday. They did not disappoint.

Cohen, originally born in Israel, got his start on the electric bass, inspired by electric bassist Jaco Pastorius. At age 22 he moved to New York City where he attended the New School and integrated himself into the New York scene. In 1997 Avishai got a call from Chick Corea and his career skyrocketed from there. Today Cohen leads his own group, composing his own music and playing shows around the world.

The stage structure sees everything built around Cohen and his signature bass. His leadership position has him swaying between drummer Daniel Dor and pianist Omri Mor. “My 105 year old bass is my friend and partner on stage and I have always performed with it out front from day one! My bass travels with me everywhere! I am in the center and I like to groove and dance with it at every show, it’s like a beautiful woman with a big heart beat.”

Cohen's writing is a heady mix of jazz, classical and traditional Israeli music that makes his catalogue hard to categorize. "I listened much to Bach and classical music in general, but also to Stevie Wonder, Led Zeppelin and of course Charles Mingus. I love and listen to all kinds of music: pop, rock, and all - many styles inspire me all the time.” 

While his compositions ground the trio, and act as a foundation, the trio creates beautiful architecture with the source material. During one song, Omri Mor put his hand deep inside his Yamaha grand piano, muting the strings with his left hand and playing with his right. The result was somewhere between a palm-muted guitar and a harpsichord.

Drummer Daniel Dor added to the energetic set, at one point putting his drumsticks into his mouth, while using his hands on his snare drum. In one of the final tunes Daniel took a drum solo that dazzled the audience. Later the entire band took part in a fiery drum solo, Avishai tapping out rhythms on his music stand and Omri on a floor tom.

The trio are clearly on the same page and Avishai is proud of his band. "Omri and Daniel are very intelligent and 'soulful'. It is the combination of their humility, their spirituality and their very high intellectual abilities. It makes for a very high level of music. Between them, a common, friendly space appeared that is only strengthened through the moments we share.  Here, three becomes one.”

During the encore Cohen had an issue with his bass on stage. Seemingly un-phased he picked up the mic and started singing with Omri accompanying him on the piano. “I don’t need the bass” he told the audience jokingly.

Avishai is a true musician. Even without his bass he can captivate audiences with his voice and overall musicality.

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