Hearing Avishai Cohen play on the recording session for Mark Turner’s recent Lathe of Heaven album, producer Manfred Eicher was struck by the trumpeter’s contribution at once. “I immediately liked Avishai’s tone, his phrasing, his energy and purity of sound,” he said. Now comes Cohen’s ECM leader debut with Into the Silence, an album dedicated to the memory of his late father. The trumpeter composed a sequence of emotive melodies reflecting on the last days of his father’s life, with muted horn setting the very personal, deeply felt tone of this music from the start. Along with the expressive grace and restraint of Cohen’s trumpet, there is searching, often blue-hued piano, lyrically mirroring saxophone and a kindred-spirit rhythm duo that responds with utmost subtlety to the beauty in the music.
The core quartet for Into the Silence features Cohen alongside two longtime collaborators: pianist Yonathan Avishai (a decade-long member with the trumpeter in multicultural band Third World Love) and first-call New York drummer Nasheet Waits (one-third of Cohen’s freewheeling trio Triveni). Bassist Eric Revis, a mainstay of the Branford Marsalis Quartet for two decades, has also been a key rhythm-section partner for Waits in multiple bands (including in the cooperative trio Tarbaby with pianist Orrin Evans and in guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel’s trio). Augmenting Cohen’s quartet on several pieces is tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry, an understated modernist who has played with the likes of Paul Motian and Andrew Cyrille.
“Although the first time this band ever played together was in the studio for this album, there are links between each of us,” Cohen says. “I’ve known Yonathan since I was 12, sharing music with him in so many ways over the years. As for Nasheet, I recorded three albums and toured the U.S. and Europe with him in my Triveni trio. Since this Into the Silence band was coming together in the studio, I really wanted there to be a tight rhythm section – and Nasheet and Eric have the deepest connection, from Tarbaby and so much else. They’re fearless together. And I was able to play with Eric when he joined one of our Triveni tours in America, subbing for Omer Avital. With Bill McHenry, he and I played before just informally a few times – but I immediately felt close to his sound. His voice was required for this music.”
This music consists of the melodies Cohen composed over six months following his father’s passing in November 2014. “The dissonant piano figure you hear in the beginning of the track ‘Into the Silence’ came to hand on the piano in my parents’ house right after my father died,” he explains. “I was dealing with a wide range of feelings that I couldn’t really deal with in words, only in music. The title of the song and album refers to the silence of absence, the way you see pictures of someone who is gone but you don’t really hear them in your life anymore.” The 15-minute “Dream Like a Child” refers to “how my father had always wanted to take music lessons and learn to be a musician when he was growing up, but his family couldn’t afford it for him,” Cohen explains. “But he made sure that his children – me, my sister, my brother – all got to have those lessons and learn instruments, as well as to play together.”
During his father’s final weeks and after, Cohen listened to an album of Rachmaninoff’s solo piano music “constantly, on a loop, when I was a plane or a train, or going to sleep,” he recalls. “I think the emotional spirit of those preludes, etudes and elegies wound their way inside me. I became obsessed with the harmonies of his music, particularly the inner voices. The music isn’t just sad, either – there is surprise. A lot of life is in that music. It was inspiring for me. I was also listening a lot to Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch. Obviously, my record doesn’t sound anything like that – but the honesty of Dolphy’s music and the close way his band interacted were on my mind.”
Cohen lived with his melodies for months, just in his head or at the piano. Much of the music had never come through his horn until the first takes in the studio. “I played through the tunes with Yonathan at the piano before the recording session, but it was brand new to everyone else, so everyone’s responses were completely fresh,” the trumpeter says. “The first track you hear on the album, ‘Life and Death’ – that’s the band’s very first impression of the piece. We were all discovering the potential of the music as we were playing. The experience of working with Manfred was fantastic. I’m used to producing my own records, but it was invaluable having his ears and experience for something like this. We saw the same picture in our heads from the start, shaping the album together as we went.
“The vibe in Studios La Buissonne in the South of France was very relaxed – and very cohesive, with recording, mixing, mastering all taking place in three days,” Cohen adds. “I think you can hear both the relaxed quality and the cohesive process in the music, as it all feels of a piece. My last few albums with my Triveni band were oriented toward improvisation, loose and extroverted. Into the Silence has a different focus, more inward. It’s about the compositions, bringing out the stories and the feelings of those melodies.”