This was beautifully played music, the players complementing and contrasting each other well, but unexciting given the trio’s reputation for spontaneity. In the second set, the Louis Alter-Milton Drake ballad standard “Nina Never Knew” showed Jarrett’s talent for improvised harmonic drama, the band staying with him all the way. The Jarrett original “Prism” got into Latin rhythms and then took off into a sustained exploration, Peacock getting into a flamenco groove against the pianist’s relentless chording. The band lifted off. But there was little else to ruffle the evening other than DeJohnette’s occasionally intrusive cymbal work. The notoriously prickly Jarrett, who had been in a good mood all night in his between-song comments, reverted to form when he saw people in the audience photographing him after the second encore, and he left the stage in a snit.
Far more exciting, sorry to say, than the Jarrett trio was the Israeli-born trumpeter Avishai Cohen’s trio the following Tuesday at the Regattabar. Not only was Cohen different from Jarrett, he was also different from his own latest CD, which the show was supposed to be a celebration of. Flood (the second installment of his “Big Rain” trilogy on Anzic) is all gently flowing African rhythm and melody with piano and percussion, trancy and meditative. The R-bar line-up was his Triveni band with bassist Omer Avital and drummer Nasheet Waits playing deep-in-the-grain American jazz: Coltrane, Mingus, and several thorny Cohen originals including one untitled piece that could have come out of Ornette’s book. Whereas DeJohnette had been all gauzy atmospheric cymbal washes and discursive patter, Waits (who, granted, didn’t have fight Symphony Hall’s acoustic) played tight, ferociously accented cross-rhythms.
They began with Coltrane’s “Wise One,” a long-toned modal invocation, Waits introducing the piece with an extended mallet solo and building his cross-rhythms to a furious peak before Cohen came in for the melody. Cohen has a focused sound, with a broad, terminal vibrato as if from the throat — a throbbing wuh-uh-uh. He stuck close to the melody on “Wise One” while Waits crescendo’d once more, nearly drowning him out. On record, Cohen can be Milesian in his spare phrasing, but his take on Mingus’s “Portrait” was a revelation. He wasn’t playing modal scales or running arpeggios on the changes — he was sticking close to Mingus’s complex tune, ornamenting it, coloring his notes, using it as a source of new melodies. With Ovital and Waits shifting the tempos and dynamics behind him as he moved through the form, he brought to mind the master bassist’s collaborations with Ted Curson and Jack Walrath.
Avishai’s celebrated older sister, Anat, came into the Regattabar the next night on the heels of her new Notes from the Village. Like her brother and everyone else on their Anzic label, Cohen is a pan-stylistic marvel. “Washington Square Park” — the first song on the new album and the last song before the encore at the R-bar — was emblematic, taking in the sounds of that Lower Manhattan park on a warm afternoon, from its opening rock piano chords to African groove to jazz swing to funk and Coltrane. Cohen moved through all her horns — soprano sax, clarinet, tenor — as the music shifted. The set also included Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” (truly jittery), Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona’s “Siboney,” Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” a few Brazilian numbers, and Cohen’s own lovely “Lullaby for the Naïve Ones.” One of Cohen’s teachers at Berklee, Phil Wilson, once described her musical personality as “positive and bubbly,” and she was all that as she smiled and laughed with her band, moved and danced playing her horns. This was carefully arranged jazz delivered unpretentiously, with pianist Jason Lindner, bassist Joe Martin, and drummer Daniel Freedman. Maybe Keith Jarrett should take a lesson from her.