I have discovered one of my favourite albums of 2020. There may be something emotional about listening to new jazz in lockdown conditions, but the new ECM album that pairs the trumpet of Avishai Cohen with the piano of Yonathan Avishai is simply beautiful. I don’t use the word perfection lightly, but there is something so pure about this sound and the collection of tracks.
Cohen and Avishai have been friends since meeting and playing jazz together in Tel Aviv, although Playing The Room is the first album of this duo.
Watch a brief preview of the new album here:
This is an intensely intimate album, recorded in the Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI in Lugano - the room which is exquisitely played to - and produced by Manfred Eicher. It is, apparently, Eicher, who suggested the duo recording in this room. There’s almost a sense of eavesdropping on two musicians improvising and exploring each tune collectively.
And these are beautiful tunes. The album opens with Cohen’s The Opening, before moving to Avishai’s Two Lines and into a collection of interpretations of some of their favourites by other composers.
There’s a stunning rendition of John Coltrane’s Crescent and Cohen’s muted, plaintive trumpet articulating Duke Ellington’s Azalea. The lilting Kofifi Blue uses the trumpet to pick out Abdullah Ibrahim’s melody, before interplay with the piano that gives a delightful reinterpretation of the original, which isn’t heard often enough.
Jazz history is taken further with Ornette Coleman’s Dee Dee and Milt Jackson’s Ralph’s New Blues which are probably the most frenetic this duo gets. Apparently, much of this album was recorded in just one take, which proves quite how adept these two are at playing together, paying tribute to jazz classics and improvising in their own style.
The penultimate track is a delightful reinterpretation of Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke, bringing us full circle back to Ellington. Arranged by Yonathan, this is largely solo piano, with a trickling trumpet in the final half of the track, playing with Wonder’s melody.
Listen to Sir Duke here:
Finishing with a lullaby - Sasha Argov’s Shir Eres - closes this album beautifully. Both Avishai Cohen and Yonathan Avishai perform beautiful and the room reverberates with the perfect sound of trumpet and piano in perfect harmony.