Release date: July 17, 2020
Label: 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. On his new release Originations, Guggenheim Fellow Ryan Cohan brings together 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.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
"This one instantly passes the hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck test – that slightly creepy chill, not unlike the first waft of cool night air following a hot day in the desert." Read this article here.
BOSTON CONCERT REVIEWS
"The superb recording captures all of the diverse energy and dynamic contrasts in Cohan’s music with an up-front, crisp presence that delivers all the airy timbres and textures of this unique collective."Read this full article here
THE ARTS SECTION
“I did not have this music at all in my head, it was something that’s taken shape in the last few years for me, that has just been an evolution of that experience as opposed to having an idea of what it meant to me at that time.” Read this full article here
"Originations is striking and inviting by its very nature, with a special blend of refreshing melodies, warm instrumental tones and catchy rhythmic devices that make for an extremely pleasant listening experience." Read this full review here
"Originations is a remarkable and original recording, one that reveals Cohan to be a major force as a writer and arranger as well as a superb pianist comfortable in any number of milieus." Read this full review here
CHICAGO JAZZ MAGAZINE
"Originations is singularly unique in its depth and breadth and is a charismatic and absorbing disc." Read the full review here.
LA HABITACIÓN DEL JAZZ
"Cohan mezcla magistralmente la música del Medio Oriente, con latín, con jazz, con elementos clásicos, africanos y del resto de músicas del mundo, incluido el flamenco y sitúa a Cohan muy alto en el ranking de compositores actuales." Lea esta reseña aquí.
DEE DEE MCNEIL
"Cohan’s use of the Kaia String Quartet sets a lovely tone and ambience to this piece of musical art." Read the full review here.
"A suite Cohan performed to vivid effect at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival in 2018. The new recording deepens earlier favorable impressions of the piece, which amounts to a series of tone poems in which Cohan explores his Middle Eastern heritage – Jewish and Arabic." Read the full article here.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Music is the language of the world. It is there where world culture can freely dance as one. We learn that our perceived differences are actually strengths that create an indomitable peace. With Originations, Cohan takes us yet a few steps closer to just that." Read the full review here.
"And you should listen again to "Originations." Climb onto the rhythms, cling to the melodies, savor the arrangements, and, after a while, you fell that the emotional richness of the music stands out." Read the full article here.