Joe Cohn

Joe Cohn: Emeryville Sessions 1: Marathon Man

$15.46 $17.98
Product Type: CD
Artist: Joe Cohn

Title: Emeryville Sessions 1: Marathon Man
Label: CD Baby

EMERYVILLE SESSIONS VOL 1: JOE COHN/MARATHON MAN As the title indicates, the present album is the first in a series of sessions that feature the always inventive and always swinging Joe Cohn. There is a theme to these sessions, and that theme - to paraphrase a Ralph Towner album title - is "Old Friend, New Friends." The old friend is drummer and producer Akira Tana. Cohn and Tana first met in the 1970s, when both were studying music in Boston. "We've kept up with each other ever since," Cohn reports, "though usually there are several years between gigs." One of those occasional encounters, and the only one previously documented, was Joe's father Al Cohn's 1982 Concord Jazz album Overtones. "That was one of my first recordings," Joe Cohn recalls, "and it was a little intimidating. Akira was already hooked up with my father, and Hank Jones and George Duvivier were also in the band. I was expecting arrangements, or at least sheet music, and there I was with all of these great musicians and my father showed up with nothing but lead sheets." A quarter-century later, Cohn the younger was clearly unfazed by the comparable challenge that Tana presented in the Emeryville encounters. "Akira decided to arrange a series of sessions quickly, day after day, in which I didn't know any of the musicians," Cohn explains. "With the exception of Akira, everyone involved was someone I met on the day of the session. The concept seemed a little frightening, but it turned out to be a lot of fun." The success of Tana's experiment was ultimately assured by the quality of Cohn's ear and the quantity of his invention. "You certainly have to listen a lot more," the guitarist says, "because there is no way to rely on any established approaches. You trust everyone's knowledge of the language, and Joe Bagg certainly knows the language." Indeed, the California keyboard player (who happens to be equally persuasive in other contexts when playing piano) has full command of the Hammond B-3 vernacular, as well as a personal way with a phrase and a lot of fire. Bay area tenorman Dayna Stephens, one of what is now a lineage of impressive saxophonists to come out of Berkeley High School (as opposed to Berklee College, where Stephens later studied), adds a similar mix of historic appreciation and individual articulation on three tracks. Cohn sets the tone with improvisations featuring a minimum of familiar licks and personal routines. "My memory isn't so great," he offers in explanation, "especially with melodies. I know a lot of songs, but not completely. A sax player might call a tune on a gig where the harmony comes to me easily, but I can't recall the melody. Maybe I transcribed too many solos when I was young. Whatever the reason, I'm stuck improvising, and my only rule is to play as musically as possible." So this first Emeryville session was constructed in the studio, with Cohn "pulling out a few things I was comfortable on" and Bagg and Tana adding suggestions of their own. "Speedball," which was new to Cohn, was first heard on Lee Morgan's 1965 album The Gigolo and ultimately became the trumpeter's theme song. Both the line and the eight-bar break are played with spirit (check out the way Tana highlights the head) and Stephens leads off the soloing with a heft and cry in his sound that show a spiritual connection to Joe's father. The guitarist displays his distinct tone, by turns liquid and charged, and those personal ideas, while Bagg attacks with the insistence of a Larry Young and a notable lack of gutbucket clichés. "Autumn Nocturne" is delivered in a perfect medium walking tempo, one of several instances on the album when the chosen pace sounds just right. "I've wrestled with the tempo on that tune for years," Cohn admits, "and this is what I concluded works best." It definitely allows him to fill his statement with rhythmic as well as melodic surprise. Note how Bagg slides into the organ solo, his centered sound and overall relaxation. The quasi-bossa tempo of "I Concentrate on You" might lull some players, but Cohn counteracts that possibility with unpredictable note groupings and a taut internal pulse. While slower than "Autumn Nocturne," the Billie Holiday classic "God Bless the Child" is still lifted out of the dirge-like realms into which it is often plunged. Guitar and organ solos speak for themselves, and the way Cohn sets up Bagg's takeover on the first bridge confirms just how well matched these new friends are. "I may have written two or three tunes in my whole life," Cohn emphasizes, "and 'Cohn on the Cob' is one of them. It came to me by accident, when I was sitting at the piano practicing classical etudes. A figure I played intrigued me and I started messing with it." What resulted is a challenging blues with altered changes that the guitarist has previously recorded with both Frank Wess and Grant Stewart. Stephens returns here and everyone solos, including Tana twice (first with brushes, then later with sticks). It is fascinating to hear the different manner in which each of the others addresses the harmonic challenge of the tune: Stephens leans into the changes, while Cohn appears to slide under them (at least for his first two choruses) and Bagg splits the difference. Al Cohn wrote "Mama Flosie" as a tribute to his wife and Joe's stepmother, Flo Cohn, and introduced the piece on his 1973 encounter with Zoot Sims, Body and Soul. The funky ¾ environment raises echoes of Ray Brown's popular "Gravy Waltz," though eight extra bars of the main stream create a 40-bar chorus. This is soul music territory, albeit soul of the heartfelt rather than rote variety. Wes Montgomery's "Trick Bag" was first heard in this same guitar-organ-drums configuration, with Mel Rhyne and Jimmy Cobb in support. Like the previous track, it recalls another funky classic, in this case Horace Silver's "Sister Sadie." Beyond the strong solos, articulate exchanges of eight and four-bar duration and a coda borrowed from the 1958 (as opposed to the 1947) "Milestones," the manner in which Cohn and Bagg merge in the theme statements is most impressive. "Bittersweet," a blues plus bridge by bassist Sam Jones that appeared on the 1975 classic Eastern Rebellion album, is a third consecutive little-heard gem from a jazz master. Bagg drops a few citations in his solo, including one of Miles Davis's favorite phrases. Cohn begins with a lick as well, but quickly turns it inside out. Dayna Stephens makes his final appearance on the ballad "The Very Thought of You," and his brawny directness against Bagg's chords on the theme raises shades of Stanley Turrentine and Shirley Scott. Cohn, in contrast, sails through his solo, with Tana propelling the guitarist along with challenging commentary. Cohn brings the same energy to "Estate," the greatest bossa nova standard ever to come out of Italy. The guitarist begins blowing while still in the theme chorus, yet never abandons the melancholy mood that defines the ballad. Staying with the beautiful, the trio turns next to Billy Strayhorn's "Upper Manhattan Medical Group," which Dizzy Gillespie nailed on both Duke Ellington's Jazz Party session and Gillespie's own tribute to the maestro. Little touches here - Tana's use of brushes and the way the time opens up at Cohn's second chorus, the shift of melodic responsibilities from Cohn at the start to Bagg at the close - reveal an attention to detail that takes spontaneous encounters of this nature to another level. "If Ever I Would Leave You" is taken way up, at a pace that Babs Gonzales used to refer to as "Nashua tempo" for you racetrack historians. "I owe that tempo to Grant Stewart - that's Grant's fault," Cohn jokes. "It can be harrowing if you don't know the tune." No one appears harrowed here, as Cohn and Bagg fly through their solos, eight-bar exchanges with Tana, and the kind of tag ending favored by Sonny Stitt and the first Miles Davis Quintet. Back to the blues for the concluding Ornette Coleman line "Turna

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