Guggenheim Fellow, Pianist, Composer and Producer Ryan Cohan announces the release of ORIGINATIONS, Out July 17 on Origin Records
“‘ORIGINATIONS’ surely places Cohan in the first rank of contemporary jazz composers.” -Chicago Tribune
Acclaimed Pianist, Composer and Producer Ryan Cohan is excited to announce the upcoming release of his sixth album as a bandleader, Originations, out July 17 on Origin Records. Throughout his previous five critically acclaimed albums and as a collaborator with numerous leading jazz figures and world-class ensembles, Ryan Cohan has masterfully walked the line of writer and player, proving himself time and again to be a composer of rare vision as well as a highly versatile, virtuosic pianist. Alongside Cohan is a steadfast ensemble made up of James Cammack (acoustic bass), Michael Raynor (drums), John Wojciechowski (flute, alto flute, clarinet & tenor saxophone), Geof Bradfield (bass clarinet & soprano saxophone), Tito Carrillo (trumpet & flugelhorn), Omar Musfi (riqq, frame drum & dumbek) and The KAIA String Quartet: Victoria Moreira (violin), Naomi Culp (violin), Amanda Grimm (viola), Hope DeCelle (cello).
On Originations, Ryan Cohan brings his broad spectrum of musical influences and sensibilities across multiple genres into focus through a personal lens in his most compelling musical statement to date. With the support of a Chamber Music America New Jazz Works commission (his third), Cohan penned Originations – a stunning work of six integrally linked yet independently standing compositions scored for an eleven-piece jazz chamber ensemble. The narrative driving the music boldly illuminates and affirms the vital human and spiritual connections between disparate traditions and ideologies. Featuring a dynamic symbiosis of Middle Eastern and North African musical themes, Western classical music elements, modern jazz and impressionistic harmonic colors and improvisation, Originations blurs its diverse stylistic ingredients to create a vibrant sonic tapestry woven in Cohan’s distinctive voice.
Arriving in Amman, Jordan several years ago on the final leg of a multinational tour, Cohan unexpectedly found himself on familiar ground in a new land. “Although I had never been in Amman, I felt strangely at home there,” Cohan marveled. “After every performance or while exploring the streets, people would come up to me and ask if I was Jordanian. The locals clearly saw something recognizable in me as I did in them. It was surreal.” Cohan only had an inkling his paternal family originated from somewhere around the general region he was in, but he had not realized he had landed, in fact, right in their homeland. The experience catalyzed Cohan to seek out his Palestinian roots for the first time. What followed a few years later was a reunion with his father and uncle (both with whom he had no contact since he was a small child) along with the discovery of three half-siblings. Remarkably, all were based in Amman just a few miles from where Cohan had stayed while on tour. Originations explores the assimilation of the composer’s reawakened Arab lineage and his Jewish upbringing and reflects the rich beauty of the two cultures and profound complexities between them from a musical perspective.
Demonstrating Cohan’s compositional acuity, the first track on this album, “The Hours Before Dawn” is a masterwork of nuance and melodic invention. Cohan states “Iconic poet Mahmoud Darwish used this phrase in describing the attitude of his fellow Palestinians toward the promise of the future. The hope he alludes to is universal. His sentiment moved me to write something blending maqam (Arabic modal system) influenced melodic cells with my own harmonic sensibilities.” Originations pulls from elements of the third-stream as well as modern improvisational jazz to create a decidedly fresh, exciting sound.
The cohesion and remarkable interplay of the horn section made up of Bradfield, Wojciechowski and Carrillo is informed by the longevity of their collaborative relationship with Cohan. Each of these players contribute brilliant solo statements, as well, while switching effortlessly between multiple instruments. The album’s second track, “Imaginary Lines”, features various instruments playing oud-type parts at times among carefully arranged and open blowing sections. This piece, and the album as a whole, homogenizes a variety of musical features across styles.
The ensemble navigates the technically demanding and continuously shifting melodic and expansive improvisational forms of Originations with equal parts ferocity and poetic expression. “Heart” expresses the compassion and soul that is at the center of emotion and all life. With an incredible fervency, Cohan sets the tone for this large ensemble from the piano as horns and strings envelope his keys. Possessing a rare combination of seductive lyricism and an acuity for global rhythms, the KAIA String Quartet integrates seamlessly into the group while infusing further dimension.The overall result is a driving cohesiveness seldom achieved in such a hybrid ensemble.
With “Sabra”, Cohan offers listeners a playful piece built off a simple melody, rife with rich harmonic intrigue. Cohan notes “A sabra is a thick-skinned, thorny desert plant with a sweet, soft center and a term used to describe the tenacity and warm-heartedness of Israeli Jews.” “A Seeker’s Soul” is a freely flowing dialogue between piano and soprano saxophone adorned by passages of rich orchestration. To the composer, having a seeker’s soul means “possessing a restless curiosity to discover the world beyond oneself along with the requisite courage to live one’s authentic nature.” Rhythm and groove are at the center of the album’s final track, “Essence”, which brings the ensemble full tilt and allows the soloists and rhythm section to unleash. Bassist James Cammack (38-year Ahmad Jamal Trio veteran) and drummer Michael Raynor provide the visceral world grooves and critical rhythmic foundation for all while Syrian percussionist Omar Musfi offers additional color, texture and depth to the feel.