Live Review: Avishai Cohen Trio at Ronnie Scott’s

Avishai Cohen is often referred to as one of the best bassists in the world. Partly for his speed, partly for his incredible showmanship – but in my eyes, what makes Avishai so great is the principle quality of every master bass player: his ability to adapt. Avishai has a downright perfect sense of timbre and is able tot totally disappear into his music, whether he’s playing a huge venue in Mariac, or in an intimate setting like Ronnie’s.

Avishai said he felt very at home in Ronnie’s (and he should – he’s been playing there for twelve years now), and it’s not hard to see why. Ronnie Scott’s is a cool, intimate and wonderfully atmospheric club. Everyone there has a real appreciation for the music, and there’s an almost tangible excitement when you walk into the place (There’s a reason the All Stars have such a great time playing there constantly). The band wasted little time, opening as soon as they where on stage with “Dreaming”, the opening track from Seven Seas. The two men supporting Avishai where Omri Mor on piano and the 22 year old Amir Bresler on drums (who Avishai admitted, “kicked his ass every night”).

Omri was an impressively fast player for most of the evening, and it always seemed like he was experimenting or reinventing a lot of what he was doing. At times his playing was almost similar to the avant-garde Gwilym Simcock, however with all his (intelligent) unconventional flourishes, he was still always clearly playing with Avishai and Amir rather than against them, and was able to turn on a dime whenever necessary. About halfway through the show the trio played a song Avishai said had been inspired by a song he watched on youtube. It was a terrific song that ended up being one of the highlights of the evening – though it was clearly a loving adaptation as opposed to an Avishai original. Omri absolutely killed that performance, and it was perhaps the song he was able to “let loose” the most (though sadly I couldn’t get a very good view of him as he played due to a conveniently placed pylon near the bar), it felt nothing short of a musical flurry, and it made for an intently satisfying climax when the song returned to the main melody. As with most live trios, the moments the crowd are really waiting for are those instances when each of the three on stage will suddenly break from doing their own thing and jive together perfectly to play a brief riff or musical phrase. It’s simple, but it’s an incredibly rewarding, even defining pay-off. The band where smart though, and were well aware these moments couldn’t happen too often or go on too long lest they lose their appeal. Often the phrase would be coming to an end just as the audience had realised what had happened and begun applauding.

What’s interesting about Cohen’s jazz, and what separates it from many of his fellow contemporary players is his heavy world influence. There’s a whole lot more dependency on percussion in his shows than in many other trios, and there’s a very playful aspect to Avishai’s live performance. He often uses his bass for percussion purposes, slapping it and strumming along with Amir, and he has a way of flinging his hand along the neck of the instrument instead of simply sliding which is always fun to watch. That night, though, the percussion-heavy influence really shone. Amir is an absolutely gifted drummer who would often steal the show and make the song his own. One of the highlights of the performance was one of the longest and craziest drum solo’s I’ve ever seen. Amir executed it flawlessly and never appeared to lose himself or get caught up in what he was doing, no matter how intense it got. Avishai and Omri even left their posts on stage and joined Amir on the drums for a moment, which made for a bizarre, surprising and very cool end to the main set, and was a much needed pick-me-up after the previous two sombre ballads the trio performed.

For an encore, the trio played “Remembering”, which I found an odd choice to cap the night. It’s a great song by all means, however it’s a track that serves far more as an exhibition of Avishai’s talents than that of the trio. Indeed, Omri and Amir aren’t given terribly much to do in that song other than provide an adequate stage for Avishai’s bass. That said, it really is a perfect example of what Avishai is considered such a talent; he lets the simple background carry him forward, and moves with it flawlessly, always in time, always in tone, but never predictable and always magnetic. It’s a nostalgic piece where Avishai’s playing draws breathe, moving in and out with it like a current.

The band performed a damn fine set that night, and demonstrated wonderfully their synchronisation as a trio. Avishai said that Scott’s felt like home to him, and when he was on stage, you felt like a welcome guest.

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