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Following pianist Yonathan Avishai’s contributions to trumpeter Avishai Cohen’s recent ECM group projects, label founder and producer Manfred Eicher suggested the two longtime friends pair up for duo recordings at Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI in Lugano, Switzerland. The resonant wooden concert hall is renowned for its superb acoustics.
ECM is legendary for eliciting a recital hall sound from various recording studios, but there’s nothing like the real thing. Hence, the sublimely ambient, three-way musical dialogue — trumpet/piano/hall — of Playing the Room has been released on CD and audiophile LP for listeners with discriminating ears.
Being generally slow in tempo, these nine songs may be described as ballads. But a slow beat can be subdivided to liven things up. For example, Avishai’s “Two Lines,” at first sounding like a subdued film soundtrack, evolves into a jaunty 6/8 dance at the halfway mark. Following an improvised solo section, the piece closes with call-and-response recapitulation.
Cohen’s “The Opening” is the only other original composition. Using a phrase from the standard “My One and Only Love,” both musicians manipulate the song’s beautifully unfolding melody, displaying what distinguishes them from an array of pianists and trumpeters today — their tones. A few descriptive words come to mind: pristine, diaphanous, crystalline, exemplary, maybe even virginal. Avishai’s touch is more of a caress, as though he feels his piano to be a living, breathing entity. Cohen’s trumpet sound is pure enough to invite comparisons to Wynton Marsalis, Booker Little and Bix Beiderbecke.
Not that either musician is incapable of it, but swing is not on the menu. No matter. With a repertoire including compositions by Duke Ellington, Abdullah Ibrahim, Stevie Wonder and John Coltrane (Trane’s “Crescent” is a standout), Playing the Room is a first-rate recording and certainly an asset to any listening room. — James Rozzi
Featured photo by Francesco Scarponi.