This debut recording by Avishai Cohen’s Big Vicious is such a fun record. It’s a bit unexpected after the rather serious affairs of his quintet album Into The Silence (2015), and his quartet’s album Cross My Palm With Silver (2016), although it was clear that the Israeli/New York trumpeter had a lighter side from 2018’s Playing the Room with pianist Yonatan Avishai. But this, this is something else entirely.
Cohen hasn’t forsaken jazz, not really, but Big Vicious is a much more rock and pop-oriented group making music that’s for the most part highly accessible. And it flat rocks at times. Not really a surprise for a band that’s made up of two electric guitarists (one who doubles on bass guitar), two drummers and Cohen on trumpet. An obvious template for this music is Miles Davis’s early ’70s run that included albums now recognized as classics like In A Silent Way and Miles In The Sky. Other touchstones include classic R&B, trip-hop, psychedelia, ’90s Sound System, as well as Beethoven and the Beach Boys. Trust me on that.
It’s also a focus on songs, like the lovely, sunny melody of the opener “Honey Fountain.” A good choice for the lead track, it lays out a bit of a template with Cohen’s trumpet singing atop an engaging bass of drums, bass and guitars, with some synthesizer that teams up with guitars to help move things along. It’s definitely fusion, but not exactly like ’70s fusion.
Big Vicious started its performing life doing a lot of covers, and one that stuck was Massive Attack’s “Teardrop.” Again, a lovely melody with a very pop feel. It’s got strong underpinnings of Jamaican music in the chord proressions, and some lengthy digressions into electronica and bass with Cohen’s trumpet lines floating off in the hazy distance.
Hard on that song’s heels comes “The Things You Tell Me.” The first time I heard this one I was sure it was some semi-obscure Brian Wilson Beach Boys song, you know, the one you loved that one summer but had forgotten about? Turns out Cohen penned this one. With its dual-guitar intro and Cohen’s muted trumpet, and a chord structure that somehow makes the melody sound sunny yet melancholy, it’s an excellent track.
Another standout is “King Kutner,” which absolutely rocks. Psychedelic guitar, a funky kick-drum rhythmic base, and the two trap sets going at the same time, one playing rock style, the other jazz. There’s a super analog synth line that Cohen picks up and expands on in the head … I think you can still talk about a head in t his kind of music, maybe?
“We’re all coming from jazz, but some of us left it earlier,” Cohen says. Well, there isn’t a lot of soloing going on, but his part in “This Time It’s Different” sounds largely improvized. It’s heavy on the R&B-style rhythmics and shimmering synths, too. “The Cow & The Calf” is probably the only thing on the album that could be called a blues. It’s a languid and lush ballad with yet another great melody, which Cohen pays first with a mute, then straight, then whistles. “Teno Neno,” one of three tracks co-credited to Tel Aviv studio scion Yuvi Havkin, who goes by Rejoicer, is a noir-ish blend of R&B and post-bop jazz with a bracing section where both drummers strut their stuff. Atmospherically, though, it’s of a piece with the final track “Intent,” with its heavily reverbed guitars and a late-night vibe.
That leaves the two most experimental tracks, the complex arrangement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” which has lots of on-the-fly sampling and electronics and – if I’m not mistaken – a rhythm set in five beats and melody in four. And “Fractals,” whose underpinning is an Indian scale contributed by Rejoicer. This one in particular sounds like an “In A Silent Way” outtake.
Producer Manfred Eicher, at the boards during the three days of recording at Studios La Buissonne in the south of France, made sure the music of Big Vicious had an improvisational nature and still qualifies as jazz. Whatever the label, it’s a deeply satisfying album. Don’t be afraid to play this one LOUD.