Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 22, No.4, 2023

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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Jason McDonald
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Louis René Beres
David Solway
Nick Catalano
Don Dewey
Chris Barry
Howard Richler
Jordan Adler
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
  Music Editors
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Jerry Prindle
Chantal Levesque
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Jazz Contributors

Tommy Emmanuel
John Stetch
Susie Arioli
Coral Egan
Diana Krall
Stacey Kent
Carol Welsman
Aldo Romano
Denzal Sinclaire
Madeleine Peyroux
Bireli Lagrene
Sonido Isleño
Provost & Lachapelle
Kevin Breit
Sophie Milman
Annie Poulain
Badi Assad
Donato & Bouchard
Ingrid Jensen
John Roney
Russell Malone
David Binney
Mimi Fox
Voo Doo Scat
Coral Egan
Martin Taylor
Jordan Officer
Melody Gardot
Jean Vanasse
Yves Léveillé
Sylvain Provost
Louciana Souza
Patricia Barber
Jill Barber
Corrine Bailey Rae
Chet Doxas
François Bourassa
Sylvain Luc
Neil Cowley
Marianne Trudel
Florence K
Terez Montcalm
Cyrus Chestnut
Tord Gustavsen
Sarah MK
Julie Lamontagne
Vincent Gagnon
Arioli & Officer
Jean Félix Mailloux
Becky Noble
Vijay Iyer
Lionel Loueke
Tia Fuller
Cécile McLorin Salvant
Emma Frank
Shai Maestro
Christine Jensen
Vincent Rehel
Kat Edmonson
Jaga Jazzist
Cline & Lage
Fred Hersch
Gregory Porter
Takuya Kuroda
Edmar Castaneda
Donny McCaslin
Kurt Rosenwinkel
Keyon Harrold
Sonia Johnson
Theo Crocker
Rodrigo Amarante
Youn Sun Nah
Kurt Elling
Stacey Kent & John Pizzarelli

Montreal Jazz Festival 2010







Piano Keyboard


Robert J. Lewis reviews


There is something to be said about a jazz trio that can sell out a 1,450 seat venue. Most are happy to play in clubs that draw a 100 during week days.

Jazz is a huge category, with many genres and subgenres, and it has a long history. For the purposes of this review, I am dividing jazz into two general groupings: pure and transitional, with major emphasis on the importance of the latter in cultivating an appreciation of jazz.

Learning jazz is like learning a new language: it is a step by step process and there are no short-cuts. Like with any learning curve in life, skipping steps or trying to cheat the curve more of than not ends up being anti-productive, and may permanently alienate the listener.

What every jazz lover knows is that one doesn't wake up one morning suddenly liking jazz. Transitioning from rock/pop/hip-hop to jazz is for most a long and arduous progression or evolution. The ear has to familiarize itself with more complex harmonies and negotiate the shift in emphasis from composition to improvisation.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I'm not a fan of transitional jazz, and was for the most part unimpressed with the Avishai Trio that played to a packed Theatre Maisonneuve during the 2023 Montreal International Jazz Festival. Most of their playlist was from "Shifting Sands," released in 2022.

But for the drummer -- more on ‘her’ later -- there were no surprises and far too many extended, repetitive sequences that quickly turned monotonous, even though in and of themselves, in terms of pure melody, they could be described as beautiful, or soothing, or uplifting. Much of the trio's music washes over ‘body and soul’ like warm bathwater. For this primary effect, a nod (not to be confused with nodding off) must go to pianist, Elchin Shirinov, who from one song to the next didn't miss a note or effect.

It goes without saying that my personal indifference to the music is the least interesting thing I can say about it. The more interesting question is what attracts large audiences to it, perhaps an audience not particularly acquainted with jazz. And why has the Avishai fan base increased exponentially during the past five years? Based on the applause and adoration, what they do, they do giddily better than well.

Not unlike England's Neil Cowley, Avishai Cohen is a bridge builder, and as such, he plays a key role in educating tentative audiences to the possibilities of jazz. Unlike Cowley, whose rectangular product fuses rock and jazz, Cohen wins over his audiences not through the hard beat we associate with rock, but through melodies that are very accessible and supported by well-defined, interval-friendly bass lines.

Shirinov’s melodies are hummable, and it wouldn't surprise me if he counts Chopin among his influences. Rather than evolve his melodies into more complex forms of jazz, which is what usually happens in jazz (think The Standards: Coltrane doing "My Favorite Things"), he instead flips, inverts, spins and then turns them upside down; but the motif, which anchors the music, remains the same, providing an easy ear-grip for an audience looking to cultivate an appreciation of the possibilities of improvisation. Shirinov’s improvs are at once soothing and safe, and if you don't pick it up on first listening, you'll hear it, however slightly altered, again and again. Cohen’s thudding bass provides perfect melodic counterpart; he wisely stays away from playing clusters of notes in the lower reaches. And while the music never challenges the listener, it whets the appetite to further explore the genre.

What arrested my attention big time was the percussion provided by 24-year-old Roni Kaspi. If piano and bass were playing it safe, it devolved to Kaspi to mix things up with the unexpected that felt right at the moment. If sometimes it sounded like she was experimenting with unusual flourishes, inflections and counter accents, when she got it right it was exhilarating, such that her instrument became the main focus. Compared to piano and bass, she allowed herself carte blanche in respect to dynamic range; her accents were mostly well placed, sometimes behind, sometimes ahead of the beat. Through her daring and at times madly inspired invention, she gave legs to music that was mostly static.

Later in the festival, Kaspi presented her rock/fusion trio that featured original compositions. Her unique approach to percussion was the highlight of the concert.

Roni Kaspi is young and will be a major player in jazz for the unforeseeable future. Avishai Cohen’s challenge will be to provide her with the space and freedom to pre-empt accepting invitations to play with more musically evolved jazz combos or leading her own group.

Either way, stay tuned.



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