A perfect album?! Video transcript
Did you catch the time signature of that piece? Yeah, I didn’t either the first time I heard it in 2010. Don’t worry though, I’ll share the answer with you at the end of this video. Anyway, back in 2010 my good friend and then-coworker Andy West played me this song in his car on the way back to work after lunch. He said, “I just heard of this jazz bass player from Israel. He’s unbelievable. Check out this song and see if you can figure out the time signature. I think you’ll dig it.”
Andy was right. Not only was the time signature otherworldly, but I really did dig the piece. When the song ended, he said, “You gotta listen to the whole album. The guy’s name is Avishai Cohen and the album is called Gently Disturbed.” So I bought the album on iTunes later that day and gave it a listen. It immediately blew me away. The opening piece, titled Seattle, was one of the most beautiful and tender pieces of music I’d heard in a long time. It warmed my heart to hear such a beautiful melody complemented by these exotic-sounding harmonies. And since nearly all of my own music starts out as piano compositions, usually in strange time signatures and with unusual harmony, I felt right at home as a listener.
The second track, Chutzpan, is the one Andy played me in his car. Its bombastic ostinatos, energetic drums, aggressive piano, and awesome improvisational interplays completely captivated me. It was my first time hearing Mark Guiliana on drums, which was an ear-opening experience for sure. He does things in this piece that are just so out there, from how-did-he-think-of-that rhythmic permutations to how-does-he-do-that, crazy-fast cross-sticking. I really can’t imagine the amount of effort and practice it took to get a song like this to sound so musical.
The third track, Lo Baiom Velo Balyla, offers an unusual mix of peaceful groove, airy space, and what sounds like a Phrygian dominant or harmonic major scale, all of which are representative of Avishai’s unique musicality. Given my total ignorance about the Middle East, I’ve researched and learned that he often arranges traditional Jewish songs into jazz pieces. This one is a traditional Hebrew song and the title means, “Not at Day, nor at Night,” and seems to be about a girl wondering who her future husband will be. It’s a gorgeous piece of music that’s very singable and catchy. It starts as a slow waltz and evolves into an upbeat, very danceable, groove. I love it. There’s another song on the record with many of the same musical qualities called Puncha Puncha.
Other tracks are like musical tongue twisters with very challenging rhythms and overlapping cyclical motifs. You’ll hear this in pieces like Pinzin Kinzin, Eleven Wives, The Ever Evolving Etude, Umray, and Structure in Emotion. Some of these songs have that same level of complexity and multilayered structure as Gentle Giant songs like Knots and On Reflection, which feature multilayered vocal parts.
I won’t go song by song through the whole record, but I will say that I think the album is perfect. Yes, like, actually perfect. A work of perfection. I have listened to it many, many times, particularly while traveling, and it has always touched me in some way. It feels like an old friend now. Many of the songs feature masterful gentleness, pauses, and melody lines that make it stand out from nearly every other record out there. It is very dynamic, sounds fantastic, and makes you feel like you’re in the studio with them. It’s extremely intimate.
So let’s talk about the band. Gently Disturbed features Avishai Cohen on the bass, Shai Maestro on piano who was only 19 years old when this was recorded, and Mark Guiliana on drums. It was released in 2008 on Avishai’s record label, Razdaz Recordz. Avishai has played with several jazz heroes, including Chick Corea, Bobby McFerrin, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and a jazz hero of mine, Danilo Perez, whose Providencia album basically broke my brain when I first heard it. Also keep in mind that there are two Avishai Cohens, both of whom are jazz musicians born in Israel just a few years apart, but one plays the trumpet and the other plays upright and electric bass. This video is about the bassist.
The more I’ve listened to Avishai’s albums, the more I have discovered and enjoyed. I even bought two sheet music books from Avishai’s website just to study along with the music and and connect with it even further. A couple of songs make really interesting use of chromaticism and dissonance, like the title track, “Gently Disturbed.” It’s got some melodic lines that almost make the piano sound like a microtonal instrument. At other times, the middle eastern scales really add a sense of tension to my western ears.
In addition to the overall beauty of the album is the very unique use of rhythm. Each band member layers polyrhythms in nearly every track. There are times when you can hear one of the musicians counting time by clicking their tongue on their teeth. It’s just wonderful, like those moments in some Frank Zappa vocals where you can hear his mouth opening and closing.
Shai Maestro’s use of chord substitutions in several solos makes me feel like every instrument, including the drums, briefly twists itself into alternate universes. None of these techniques are overused, though some friends have criticized Avishai’s use of repeating patterns and ostinatos, to which I say, “Go listen to Philip Glass or Steve Reich and then talk to me about repetition.” Others have said Mark’s drumming is too busy for the record, but they’re just wrong and don’t yet realize it.
Which leads me to mention what an absolute beast Mark Guiliana is on this record. There are times when he really supports the melodic and chordal work on the piano and bass, and then there are other times where they support him on some very adventurous drum solos. He is a truly unbelievable player that I wish would do more records with Avishai, though Avishai has somehow found some secret well full of the most talented young drummers in the world instead. I did have the pleasure of seeing Mark play with John Scofield and Brad Mehldau at the Blue Note in New York City, which was such a treat. Mark is one of the best live drummers I’ve ever seen.
You can listen to the whole album on YouTube on Avishai’s RazDaz Recordz channel, but I recommend you just go out and buy it. It is really a work of art. And if you like this record, I recommend you check out these albums, too: Seven Seas, Aurora, and Lyla. Stunningly beautiful records.
I’ve unfortunately not had the chance to see Avishai perform live, but I’ve heard from friends that he’s fantastic in concert. Instead, I have watched several full concerts on YouTube that are quite enjoyable.
Let me know in the comments if you are a fan of Avishai or if he is new to you. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this music. Thanks for checking it out and thanks to Andy West for pointing me in Avishai’s direction.
Oh, and the time signature for Chutzpan is 17/8.