Avishai Cohen in Toronto

Avishai Cohen
Isabel Bader Theatre (Toronto) October 19, 2010

Check out his other current tour dates at this link

As a musician who has been called a jazz visionary of global proportions by Downbeat, and declared one of the 100 Most Influential Bass Players of the 20th Century by Bass Player magazine, Israeli bass player Avishai Cohen has worked with the likes of Chick Corea in his long career. After a stint in New York City, he returned to Israel and has since become a major figure in that country's jazz scene.

His latest musical project comes as a quintet and his new CD Aurora, and that's the incarnation I was treated to last night, along with a few hundred other people who packed in the Isabel Bader's comfy seats. It was a mixed crowd of Koffler Centre fans (as emcee Ralph Benmergui quipped "Are there any Jews here tonight?"), jazz cats and a good contingent of music students who'd caught the buzz on this virtuoso performer. The opening confusion that had the entire crowd milling about and butting in line in the cramped foyer was quickly forgotten once the concert got underway.

It began with him alone, first on the Steinway, then on his beloved upright bass, where his nimble fingers pulled a flow of notes in a surprisingly wide range, including harp-like tones. In his hands, the instrument really sings as he coaxes, plucks and strokes it. Then the rest of the very talented band came on next for a nice long set of tunes.

He sings in Hebrew, Spanish and Ladino, which, as he explained, is "a mixture of Hebrew, Spanish and lots of other things" and was favoured by his mother. The songs ranged from jazzy polyrhythmic tunes to Hebrew and Sephardic melodies to Latin rhythms - sometimes all in the same song - with the bass taking melodic lead at times. Some included his arrangements of age old Ladino and Yiddish songs.

The rest of his band definitely added to the evening, as he traded harmonic riffs with the piano, guitar and bazooki (I think), and each member was allowed to shine as a soloist too. There were no photographs or recording allowed, but I managed to find this clip:

• check it out here

which features the same line up I saw last night. The results are at times hypnotic, at times atmospheric and very beautiful, and the vocals were often simply harmonies, not accompanied by lyrics. He adds an assured and engaging stage presence and low key sense of humour to his huge musical talents. This show is a definite must see if you can.