Avishai Cohen, born in Kabri, Israel on April 20th, 1970, grew up in a multicultural family whose roots were found in Spain, Greece and Poland. At home, music was always in the air, with his mother Ora, an artistic influence, listening to both classical and traditional music. Avishai’s musical journey began when he was nine years old, when he began playing the piano. After moving to St. Louis, Missouri with his family aged fourteen, he continued to study the piano and began to play the bass guitar. The electric bass put a spell on him when his teacher introduced him to the music of luminary bassist Jaco Pastorius. Back in Israel, Avishai joined the Music and Arts Academy in Jerusalem to further explore the bass universe. At the age of 22, having served for two years in an army band, he decided to take a big step and moved to New York city. Avishai arrived in a wintry New York, January 1992. Moving to the ‘Big Apple’ was a challenging decision, emotionally as well as professionally. The young Israeli had a tough beginning; performing on the streets and working in construction to get by. These small steps gave his music a unique sense of authenticity. He studied at the New School in New York City with such artists as Brad Mehldau and was soon to be performing and recording with Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez’ Trio, reflecting the essential role that Latin music played in Avishai’s early years whilst in New York.
In 1997 a call from Chick Corea changed everything. Avishai had passed one of Corea’s friends a demo tape without particular hope of being noticed. Chick listened to it in his car and called Avishai back a few weeks later, blown away by its freshness. As a member of “Chick Corea’s New Trio” and a co-founder of Corea’s ensemble, “Origin”, for over six years Avishai became an integral part of Chick’s music and received the opportunity to fine-tune his skills as a bassist and composer. Performing with Chick Corea played an important part in shaping his musicianship, which led Avishai to consider Chick as a teacher, colleague and friend.
Avishai’s first four albums, (Adama, 1998 Devotion, 1999 Colours, 2000 Unity, 2001) were released under Corea’s label ‘Stretch / Concord Records’ and already featured the essence of his music and original compositions; Mediterranean and Latin influences, and the use of horns and vocals created a sound that was truly unique. Unity, Avishai’s fourth album as a leader and the first to showcase his skills on piano, deserves a special mention. The album was recorded with the International Vamp Band, a group of fellow musicians formed by Avishai, from different parts of the world (Mexico, Argentina, Cuba and Israel). The idea behind the cutting-edge project was to allow different cultures interact and converse using the medium of music, delivering a message of peace and harmony.
The growing range of projects he was involved in led Avishai to create his own record label with his manager in 2002, ‘Razdaz Recordz’, enabling him to follow his own path as well as record talented young musicians he believed in.
Lyla (2003), Avishai’s debut release on Razdaz, reflected his multitalented artistic personality, ranging from Latin rhythms to electronics, and jazz. At Home (2004) can be regarded as a metaphor defining Avishai’s music, if indeed it can be put into words: “music makes one feel at home everywhere”. Most followers will also recognize At Home featuring the composition ‘Remembering’, an evocative ballad performed with trio and probably the most demanded encore at his live performances, as well as being highly favoured for TV and film use.
The cosmopolitan Continuo (2006) followed with great success and displayed the magic of a working band. In 2007, the live recording As Is, Live at the Blue Note marked his return to New York for a series of concerts at the legendary Blue Note jazz club. With Gently Disturbed (2008), Avishai achieved a masterstroke, hitting the right balance between a powerful trio recording, and delicate compositions. This release was an amalgamation of melody and groove, complexity and simplicity that redefined the concept of jazz, and ‘raised the bar’ for fellow Jazz musicians. After spending much time in New York, Avishai returned to his roots and moved back to Israel, releasing a fresh musical statement linked to his heritage and history, Sensitive Hours / Shaot Regishot (2008), attained gold sales status in Israel. It was the first album to introduce vocals in all its compositions as well as songs in Hebrew.
Avishai has always been open to various musical influences in his career and he has dedicated his creativity to music that is meaningful to him. A process that led him to incorporate the Ladino language (the language spoken by Sephardic Jews) and culture through his international release Aurora (2009). “I find so much honesty, truth and innocence in those songs that I wanted to keep the language and tradition and make people aware of it” says Cohen. The same year saw Avishai’s career begin a fruitful partnership with the prestigious jazz label EMI / Blue Note. This coincided with a special relationship and connection with the French audience. In Aurora, Avishai surrounded himself with a new musical family; a unique project that blended jazz, classical music and Sephardic traditions, finding the perfect environment to fully express himself as a singer. He shared all the languages he felt close to (Hebrew, English, Spanish and Ladino), and opening up to singing enabled him to reach a higher level of communication personally as well as attract listeners way beyond the borders of jazz.
Having already recorded Continuo and Gently Disturbed at the Swedish studio Nilento, sound engineer Lars Nilsson had also become a part of Avishai’s artistic family. He felt it was the perfect place to record Seven Seas (2011), his second opus with EMI / Blue Note; which entailed songs he had been performing on tour for some time. This led Avishai to also record Duende (2012) there; a duo album that featured the young and talented Israeli pianist Nitai Hershkovits, a musician he discovered in Tel Aviv and rapidly felt in tune with.
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