With solo lines as scorchin’ as the Negev in August, Israeli-American trumpeter Avishai Cohen’s latest album, Triveni II, will please many a jazzer among us. Taking its name from an ancient Sanskrit word signifying the place where three holy rivers converge, Triveni is an unconventional trio in a genre that feeds its thirsty roots on the atypical. While many a great pianoless combo have produced memorable and even transcendent music (see Sonny Rollins’ Way Out West, Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come), Cohen’s album is good proof that the trumpet is not well suited for this setting.
It’s not a great format, for one, because all you hear is trumpet and drums. Cohen’s trumpet work is solid, nonetheless. On “Get Blue” for instance, Cohen falls unbelievably deep into the pocket alongside everybody’s favorite drummer, Nasheet Waits, and the solid bassist Omer Avital. On the standard, “Willow Weep for Me,” however, the trumpet’s bright and sprightly tonal energy gets lost in a soundscape, which is overall quite thin and tinny minus the meat of chordal instruments like a piano or guitar. If the format were not indulgently ego-stroking enough, Cohen plays with lots of chops but almost no dynamics, making the playing, though acrobatically impressive, sound like the album equivalent of a jazz school audition tape.
On the album’s finer numbers too, such as the painterly alt take “Art Deco,” Cohen cheapens an otherwise smooth, achingly pretty tune with extended technical flourishes that end nowhere interesting
The early model of jazz artists pushing the envelope is outdated – people want great music now, and few have the patience for those artists whose projects are all about self-development and challenge, rather than audience engagement.
Artists should stand behind the mantra that jazz doesn’t need more notes and noise. We all benefit from groups of people who can organize around a sound and weave together moving, beautiful music.