Monday, November 3, 2014

Reductive jazz, with mixed results: Pared-down Trio Triveni has lots of tricks up its sleeve

Trumpeter Avishai Cohen's cogent trio with bassist Omer Avital and drummer Nasheet Waits has just brought into the public square "Dark Nights" (Anzic Records).  Trio Triveni chooses to offer quizzical invitations into a type of ensemble that has a hard time justifying the full investment of a listener's time and attention.

What is this odd trio's 3rd CD all about?
The rather dour flash and gaudy introspection of the first several pieces on "Dark Nights" failed to engage me.  Eventually, I admired the teasing hurry-up-and-wait push-pull of a Cohen original, "The OC." I needed something more than a blues-saturated nod to Charles Mingus represented by "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" to be convinced of what Trio Triveni can do when they aren't putting their best foot forward on the leader's compositions.

Fortunately, Frank Foster's "Shiny Stockings" did it for me.  It is an oblique interpretation of a tune better known in big-band outings (starting, of course, with Count Basie). Waits proves to be a wizard on brushes, and Avital's solo favoring high positions on the fingerboard is wryly glitzy and memorable. I was amply amused by the trio's suggestion of big-band strutting toward the end.

When Cohen invites his sister Anat to lend her fetching clarinet playing to his "Old Soul," the program reaches its peak — almost too late, as it's the ninth of "Dark Nights"' 10 tracks.  Keyboardist Gerald Clayton is also on hand. The upshot, frankly, is that I'm more engaged by Trio Triveni here when a guest or two is on board.

The disc ends with another standard, "I Fall In Love Too Easily," a lovely melody nicely understated by the band. But I wondered if, despite Trio Triveni's internal rapport, everything really hangs together in the sparse trumpet-bass-drums atmosphere. Or is "some assembly required" in the listener's imagination, maybe involving more work than I'm inclined to undertake?

Omer Avital draws deep on heritage.
Cohen is a protean trumpeter with much to contribute in somewhat larger ensemble settings. He's a giving and creative sideman, as is shown in a Motema release under the guidance of his Trio Triveni bassist, Avital.  Titled "New Song" after one of the most appealing tracks on the disc, this quintet release is a high-status program of the new Israeli-rooted jazz.

There are some mighty tributaries feeding into the contemporary Israeli mainstream. On this disc, they are principally Latin and blues. The rolling, infectious pulse of Israeli folk music gathers into itself many aspects of Latin jazz: Pianist Yonathan Avishai incorporates the clangorous Latin keyboard style seamlessly into such an Avital original as "Avishkes."

Plenty of room for funkiness in Avital's muse is taken advantage of by such pieces as "Marcoc" and the provocative set-closer, "Small Time S---."  Drummer Daniel Freedman rolls out catchy patterns, using a variety of timbres over the course of the program. He always deploys them in a straightforward manner, showcased with particular flair on "Yemen Suite."

In addition to Cohen's spirited trumpet, Avital enjoys the services of tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm in the front line. Frahm can sometimes cut loose with authority, as he does in "Sabah El-Kheir," but mostly he's an unflashy player with lots of stirring ideas.

Jazz has long been linked to vernacular dance forms, but if there's one nagging doubt I have about "New Song," it's that the music is so charged with folk influences that it almost seems incomplete without having dancers to accompany. It's encouraging that jazz has become such an accommodating international language that the best jazz musicians the world over can represent their own cultures in it. But much of "New Song" suggests the music might as well be the spur to — and the setting for — choreography with deep roots.