by J Hunter
If your only frame of reference for Adrian Cohen is his 2003 debut disc Standardized, a paraphrase from the rockumentary spoof This is Spinal Tap comes to mind: Adrian hopes you like his new direction! Then again, I heard Cohen was moving to fresh creative pastures when I joined albanyjazz in 2005, so this had been in the works for some time. Delphic shows that the move was well worth the effort, even if we did have to wait five years for the crop to come in.
well, a set of standards, all done in the venerable piano-trio format. Now, that particular sub-genre is far from played out
. Although between Bill Charlap, Steve Kuhn, Tardo Hammer and a number of others, the concept is basically covered like a circus tent on a fire hydrant. Cohen took the harder road, choosing to develop his own songbook one that was tailored to the quartet that became Adrians regular unit during his weekly gig at Justins. With NYC reedman Adam Niewood making monthly treks north to sit in, Cohen created the set of rich, varied material that makes up Delphic.
Even though Cohen has eschewed standards as his primary material, he picked Steve Lamberts life to be the discs first tune. However, the lyrical waltz is a good strategic choice for an opener: While it is a cover, its contemporary and comes from a colleague, so the piece is rooted in the current Albany jazz scene; also, its a great gateway to bring past listeners into Adrians new configuration, as Niewood establishes the initial melody and bassist Mike delPrete takes the first solo Cohen doesnt step into the spotlight until Niewood comes back with a fulsome solo of his own, after which Adrian injects some concluding drama with the help of drummer Danny Whelchel.
From there, the music is all Cohens, and its really good stuff: ECM may have the same name as one of jazz more dour labels, but this tune is a bright calypso buoyed by Niewoods jumping soprano sax. On the flip side, Northwest Passage is a serene ocean voyage with minimal drama and a Cohen solo thats filled with love. Tied over Tune is a wide-ranging, big-canvas piece thanks to a cameo by horn player Shunzo Ohno. Ohnos flugelhorn solo is high quality, as is Niewoods on EWI; even so, Im glad this was the only large-unit tune, because the existing quintet gives Cohen more than enough firepower. (That includes the top-notch anchor and accent work delPrete and Whelchel deliver throughout Delphic.)
Speaking of firepower, the pulsing Drive brings George Muscatellos ringing guitar into the mix, giving Adrian a third solo voice and a second foil to play with. While Muscatello offers both solo and backing contributions throughout Delphic, his best moment comes when hes in full cry on the dark salsa Red Rug; at one point, George evokes the no-prisoners Heavy Metal vibe Mike Stern brought to Miles Davis later recordings. While I understand the need for subtlety on some tunes, Muscatellos performance at the Delphic release party showed he could have had a harder voice on Cohens softer material, bringing the same differentiation to the music that John Abercrombie once gave the work of Charles Lloyd.
As for Cohen himself, its hard to decide whats best about his work here: Each composition stands as a well-considered thought, accessible to all but with enough detail and craftsmanship to satisfy more discerning ears; Adrian also shows the wisdom of a good leader by giving his people plenty of room to move and shine, giving the music a collective sense of passion. Most importantly, you have to love the intention Cohen brings to his solos. Whether its the bouncing musical bubble WTF? or the swinging ballet Last Days, theres a substance and a purpose to Adrians playing that catches your attention and keeps it with no trouble at all.
Like I said, we had to wait five years for Delphic. And there is something to the old saw, Take your time, do it right. That being said, the impatient cuss inside me wants to jump up and down and yell, Keep on writing, Adrian, because we cant wait to hear more, and more, and even more!
J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz Programming) and Q104 WQBK/Albany. He is a frequent contributor to the web site All About Jazz and to the monthly music magazine State of Mind. He currently resides in Clifton Park.