Collective improvisation is about exploring various tunes in a variety of traditions with a shared musical chemistry. It’s not a simple task, yet the 3 Cohens – siblings Anat (clarinets, tenor saxophone), Avishai (trumpet) and Yuval (soprano sax) – explore this concept on Tightrope, their fourth album together with great success.
Tightrope boasts 18 tracks, each a unique, short musical sketch, with a huge range of moods and feelings, sort of like what one would expect from a collection of chopin preludes. Some are based on classics such as Thelonious Monk’s “I Mean You” and Duke Elington’s “Just Squeeze Me”, while others are originals or spur-of-the-moment “Conversation” pieces highlighting the Cohens’ superb sibling-artist chemistry.
In these “Conversations”, of which there are 5 in total, the 3 Cohens spontaneously compose the music in interplay in unaccompanied free improvisations. With no chordal instruments or rhythm section for support, it’s sort of like walking a Tightrope, except they must walk it together, accounting for each other’s movement to stay balanced. “We can talk without talking,” says Anat, the middle child. “Often, we don’t even have to look at each other onstage. We have such history together that we feel each other through the music.” They are enormously successful, and it helps that these works are rooted in pure polyphony. “Converstion #3” takes a rather charming direction when Avishai introduces a theme from Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, later reciprocated by his brother and sister.
While a capella tracks are the main attraction, Tightrope is an album about balance and buoyancy. It’s nice to hear guest instruments join in, such as Pianist Fred Hersch, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Johnathan Blake, who each bring new dimensions to the program and blend well with the party. On the whole, it’s a witty, characterful album full of surprise and wonder as three musicians showcase how attuned to one another they can be while making beautiful music.
The best jazz groups are made up of kindred spirits, but the rare family band has something more – an intuitive feel for each other that goes beyond words and gestures to a kind of bred-in-the-bone telepathy. The 3 Cohens are that sort of uncommon collective, a trio of siblings – tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Anat Cohen, trumpeter Avishai Cohen and soprano saxophonist Yuval Cohen – whose sense of improvisational interplay is both uncannily fluent and wonderfully, infectiously warm. In Tightrope the group digs deep to explore this connection in an unaccompanied setting. Stellar guests Fred Hersch, Christian McBride and Jonathan Blake individually add their voices to the conversation.
1. “Blueport” (Art Farmer)
2. “Conversation 1” (Yuval & Avishai Cohen)
3. “Song Without Words #4: Duet” (Fred Hersch)
4. “Conversation 2” (3 Cohens)
5. “Black” (Avishai Cohen)
6. “Just Squeeze Me” (Duke Ellington, Lee Gaines)
7. “Hot House” (Tadd Dameron)
8. “There’s No You” (Hal Hopper, Tom Adair)
9. “Estaté” (Bruno Martino, Bruno Brighetti)
10. “Converation 3” (3 Cohens)
11. “Indiana” (Ballard MacDonald, James Hanley)
12. “I Mean You” (Thelonious Monk)
13. “It Might as Well” (Yuval Cohen)
14. “Festive Minor” (Gerry Mulligan)
15. “Conversation 4” (3 Cohens)
16. “Conversation 5” (3 Cohens)
17. “Ai Li Lu Li Lu” (traditional)
18. “Mantra” (Avishai Cohen)
3 Cohens: Avishai Cohen, trumpet; Anat Cohen, tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Yuval Cohen, soprano saxophone