Review: Avishai Cohen – “Big Vicious”

As a bandleader, the Israeli-bred trumpeter Avishai Cohen leans democratic. I don’t mean that in the American political connotation of the word – sorry, Biden 2020 campaign – but in the tradition of broad cooperation, of each member of a collective having their skin in the game. Cohen attended the same high school in Tel Aviv as guitarist Uzi Ramirez, and many of the players in the instrumental quintet have collaborated previously. This lends Big Vicious‘ blend of acid-psych wandering, low-boil ambiance and smoky jazz signatures an interesting type of “band-feel” that’s sometimes lacking in projects fronted by a noticeable name. Notice this, too: the Israeli-bred jazz bandleader Avishai Cohen who plays the trumpet, is not to be confused with the OTHER Avishai Cohen, who is an Israeli-bred jazz bandleader who plays bass. Easy to see why you’d get that confused.

The record is, indeed, a mélange, and Cohen, with his admirable breath control, sets the stage for the tone of the record more than he steals the spotlights or chews the scenery. Though the group offers a trippy take on Massive Attack‘s “Teardrop” that’s worth noting, especially for fans of the group, the record’s best take comes nearly as the curtain falls.

On “Intent”, which is track 10 of 11, Cohen lets loose with his most emotive leads, and Ramirez and bassist Jonathan Albalak build the sonic foundation out of mournful four- and six-strings scented with post-rock scope. The piece, just four minutes and change, could run twice as long, and we’d still be lost in its moon-tide refrains. “The Things You Tell Me”, a rather blue and sonorous piece, is an engaging and sometimes enrapturing little ballad packed with remorse.

Elsewhere, the record is a little less effective, though no less adept at setting a mood with ambient colors. “Fractals” toys with Indian scales but takes too long to get off the ground fully. When it does take off in flight, it comes floating down quickly. “This Time It’s Different” starts with a great thrum of drum fills and an urban backbeat accentuated with funk-bass, but the band doesn’t do a whole hell of a lot with the song’s potential. For something with this kind of locked groove to sound so much like its surroundings, it leaves listeners wanting.

The record rarely reaches for climax or crescendo. instead, it simmers and hints at trembling the lid, and there are times – I’m thinking mostly of the six-minute-long “Teno Neno”, or the snare-clack at the beginning of “Teardrop” – where everything feels just a little too saturated in reverb and flanger pedals. Then again, there’s pure inspiration, even a kind of levity, and those moments are not few and far between, either.

On opener “King Kutner”, for example, the dual drummers offer an enthralling little backbone for Cohen’s cohorts to unravel dirgy, Creedence Clearwater Revival guitar texture, and even the occasional accent of electronics. In the closing moments of “Moonlight Sonata”, the snare-runs go wild as Ramirez again hints at post-rockisms – time becomes relative, and the thing just floats. The record isn’t always at its best, sometimes leaning on the familiar more than the fantastic, but what Big Vicious does, it does well. – Justin Vellucci, PopMatters, April 27, 2020

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