Quickies: Taylor Eigsti, Bernie Worrell, Avishai Cohen

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I’ve got a problem but it’s the good kind of problem.

There’s a backlog of CD’s sitting on my desk deserving of some shout-outs. So much so, it make take two or more additional “Quickies” to clear off this stack. With just a little time for writing at the moment though, taking three off the pile will have to suffice for now. They’re all in—or in the neighborhood of—the jazz idiom, as I haven’t gotten around to listen to new releases by Nick Cave, Steve Winwood and Mudcrutch (aka, Tom Petty and the Pre-breakers) enough times to say more than “Hey. It’s good.”

For the second Quickies in a row though, there’s some tangential homage to George Clinton. Another guy was the subject of my first One Track Mind. There’s also a dude I’ve never heard of before but looks to be one who could make a few waves in the jazz world before it’s all said and done. Yeah, I think I’ll start with him…

Taylor Eigsti Let It Come To You
Listening to Let It Come To You recalls the Josh Nelson CD I checked out last year. Here you have a up-and-comer jazz pianist with chops out the wazoo and displaying a wide range of styles from song-to-song. Oftentimes I thought the next album cued up in my iTunes library was playing whenever the next track came up, there’s so much variation in the instrumentation and arrangements.

OK, “up-and-comer” might not be the term to put on Eigsti anymore. At just 23 years old, Let It Come To You marks the sixth release for the twice Grammy-nominated former child prodigy. Coming out next week, Let It… is his second for major record label Concord (yes, any record label with a stable that includes Paul McCartney and Joni Mitchell is “major” in my book). As a kid, he’s played alongside Dave Brubeck, Bobby Hutcherson and Patti Austin, among others.

The first part of the album sticks with covers, many of them standards, and Eigisti reworked these songs into something very unlike the traditional arrangements. I particularly like how he took Wayne Shorter’s bluesy, almost downcast “Deluge” and turned it into a snappy little number, throwing in extra chord clusters at the head for an added kick. Other times he gets perhaps a little too showy, as in “Fever,” but the additon of a Columbian harp to that tune shows a lot of creativity (as co-producer, Eigsti takes much credit for these imaginative arrangements).

His own compositions are serious enough but the synthesis of ambitious jazz with light funk-pop sometimes comes off awkward. He’s got the talent and training, but that unique imprint is still in the experimental stages.

Overall, the quibbles about a lack of identity is easy to forgive. After all, as great as Takin’ Off is, Herbie Hancock didn’t exactly rewrite jazz history with it; that came later. There’s no reason to think that Taylor Eigsti couldn’t shake things up eventually, given what he’s shown on Let It Come To You. Once he’s done distilling all his wide-ranging influences down to his own voice, watch out.

Bernie Worrell Improvisario
The term “Bernie Worrell” would show up as a synonym if you looked up the word “funk” in the thesaurus. As one of the principal supporting architects of George Clinton’s groundbreaking P-Funk sound, we couldn’t help but to salute Worrell before, but with Improvisario, he provides a refreshing glimpse of other sides of him. After all, this classically-trained pianist has been a sideman for a wide variety of artists ranging from Robben Ford to Pharoah Sanders.

Nonetheless, it’s no shocker that Improvisczario, which hit the streets last September, is bubbling over with grooves. What’s surprising is that it does so in such organic, varying ways, and not all of it is funky. Perhaps recording live in the studio and making up the tunes on the spot has a lot to do with that (and thus, the album’s title). To hear Worrell just jam and not be concerned at all with smoothing out the edges is a real treat.

The first cut “New Boss” finds Worrell sounding more like Ahmad Jamal than his funky self, laying his sparse grand piano lines on top of Will Calhoun’s (Living Colour) relentless open snare. “Up In The Hills” adds Bill Bass’ bass to the line-up as well as the banjo of Mike Gordon (Phish). Toward the end, Worrell is quoting Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar,” which is probably what most listeners are asking themselves with this song. Bass gets more overtly funky on “Bass On The Line” while Bernie switches over to electric piano. Gov’t Mule’s Warren Haynes joins in with a nasty wah-wah guitar on “Dirty” and monster “Killer Mosquito.” The last cut “Celeste” features Worrell on that very un-funky instrument of the same name, but still manages to groove alongside Bass with it.

The unstructured setting of Improvisczario make this pretty unpolished and at times the jams threaten not to go anywhere, but the searching nature of these songs find gold more often than they don’t. It’s Worrell at his most relaxed and unfiltered. Likewise, listeners can relax when they soak in this CD, too.

Avishai Cohen Trio Gently Disturbed
Being another hotshot bassist alumnus of Chick Corea-led bands, it’s tempting to call Avishai Cohen the “new” Stanley Clarke, but that’s a lazy comparison. Cohen can effortlessly flutter up and down those thick strings just as ably as Clarke, but his approach is fundamentally different. Having also been trained as an accomplished pianist, Cohen plays his stand-up with more of a piano voicing and he is born to interplay with that chordal instrument.

It makes sense, then, that this album of him leading a piano-bass-drums trio is going to be well suited for Cohen, and it is exactly that. The best thing about this record is that the talent on hand is well deployed without turning this into a wankfest. Cohen, who wrote or co-wrote nine of the eleven tracks, took special care to make sure the songs have melodic lift to them and along with 21-year-old Israe
li pianist Shai Maestro and longtime drummer Mark Guiliana, wove their improvisions into the tunes more than on top of them. So, a song like “Seattle” lightly waltzes with pleasant lines so much so that the careful group interplay enters the conscious only subtly. “Chuzpan” employs Corea-esque shifting time signatures but the folk-like melody flows in an almost classical sense. Songs such as “The Ever Evolving Etude” and “Variations in G Minor” even more strongly suggests classical influences while maintaining some of the looseness of jazz.

While Maestro shows plenty of capability to handle Cohen’s intricate compositions and Guiliana seems to anticipate every slight mood change, it’s still Cohen’s show. He shows total mastery as part of the tight unit as well as with his thoughtful solos.

Brad Mehldau may have defined the art of the trio for the 21st century from a painist’s point of view. With his new trio, Cohen is making a case for a modern jazz trio more from the bassist’s perspective. Best of all, he does it without diminishing the role of the piano. Gently Disturbed, set for general release May 20 on Cohen’s own Razdaz Records, is where Cohen rests his case.

“Quickies” are mini-record reviews of new or upcoming releases, or “new to me.” Some albums are just that much more fun to listen to than to write about.

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