Avishai Cohen Quartet deliver testaments to truth and beauty at Ronnie's

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The first of two sold-out gigs by the Avishai Cohen Quartet at Ronnie Scott's started as it would go on: magically. 'Will I Die, Miss? Will I Die?', from latest album Cross My Palm With Silver (ECM, 2017), provided a great introduction, beginning with tender, intriguing piano by Yonathan Avishai. Avishai Cohen's generous yet delicate, intention-loaded trumpet swiftly joined. As the rest of the quartet entered, a melodic phrase passed from trumpet to piano to Barak Mori's double bass, drummer Ziv Ravitz clearly enjoying the process, contributing equally sensitively to the sound that swept across the band and drew them together.

Avishai Cohen is effortlessly cool; so is his playing. The trumpeter casually masters speedy runs and stretched-out tones, with power, energy, delicateness and depth at every register, moving naturally between clean high-range, and wispy, note-bending lower tones, often within a single phrase. Stylistically, the ensemble performed a similar trick, with exceptional play on rhythm, flawlessly transforming from grooving upbeat to meditative, ballad-like to bouncing, dipping into dub-style spaciousness, and coolly overlapping rhythmic shapes, always strong, united, felt.

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Through Cohen's always-evolving compositions, the quartet remained incredibly together. The trumpet-player led as a great musician should, feeding off and into the collective, from the first note diving into the sound, the moment. There was no ego in this performance, no showy hierarchy, merely giving and sharing. This was not about the individual, but the music and the whole, not about the self, but personal: a deeply present state of being.

While playing as one, each performer shone, leading, supporting, playing or not. Standout moments included Mori's wonderfully melodic, soulful bass solo on the down-tempo 'Life and Death', Raviz's hypnotising, dynamically delicate mallet drumming, introducing 'Into the Silence' and, during 'Shoot Me in the Leg', Yonathan's seamless playing upon style and mood, until the whole band entered in an explosion of rhythm. During 'Dream Like a Child', Cohen left the stage as the remaining trio perfectly expressed the simplicity and complexity of childlikeness, with sounds so dreamy, suddenly spinning into the depths of a nightmare. As Cohen reappeared, tempo and mood picked up; had his trumpet repelled the frightening visitations?

These wonderfully-shaped pieces felt driven by movement and story. Cohen made this explicit, naming each one: from the politically-rooted 'Will I Die, Miss? Will I Die?', taken from the words of a Syrian child following a chemical attack, to 'Life and Death', written for Cohen's father. Titles were insightful, but the playing sufficed to convey that each piece was deep with meaning. This concert was ruled by depth and intention, unity and presence, truth and beauty.

Celeste Cantor-Stephens

– Photos by Steven Cropper