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Adrian Cohen

The Linda
WAMC's Performing Arts Studio
Albany, NY
October 24th, 2008

by J Hunter

The Linda has always given big love to the local jazz scene: They’ve hosted CD-release parties and/or live recordings for the Lee Shaw Trio, the Brian Patneaude Quartet, and Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble; and earlier this year they presented some of the area’s best youth players in a showcase concert for Erica Seguine. Given that résumé, WAMC’s recording/performance space was the perfect place for Adrian Cohen to give his new disc Delphic a coming-out party.
Cohen has significantly changed direction since his 2003 debut disc Standardized: He’s moved from a trio setting to a more colorful quartet – and anyone familiar with Cohen’s Thursday night stand at Justin’s (or past shows by the Patneaude Quartet) knows you can’t get much more colorful than George Muscatello, Mike delPrete and Danny Whelchel. For the Delphic release show, Cohen expanded his palate even further by importing reed player Adam Niewood from New York City. The bearded saxman (who appears on Delphic with the rest of this band) was also slated to play Electronic Wind Instrument, a piece of technology that sends me right up the wall; thankfully, the EWI stayed home in favor of tenor and soprano saxes.
I know some people prefer The Linda’s “theater seating” configuration, and the space’s exemplary acoustics do make sightlines a (somewhat) secondary issue. That said, I prefer the alternate 2/3rds-round arrangement for two reasons: It brings the audience and the band closer together, and it gives you more of a chance to see the musicians’ individual techniques – the exception being Muscatello, who works facing towards his partners and away from the audience. The thing is, though, Muscatello can play while hanging upside down from a trapeze as long as he plays the same ringing, steel-edged guitar lines he disbursed on this evening.
The ghostly fills Muscatello contributed to the hyped-up samba “Red Rug” added an otherworldly texture to the piece’s driving urgency, and he tagged similar voicings onto the last notes of “ECM”, adding a little more topspin to the end of Cohen’s vision. Played through a standard hollow-body guitar, Muscatello’s solos on Steve Lambert’s “Life” would have jibed perfectly with Cohen’s overall sound, which combines detailed lyricism with a percussive approach that grabs your attention and holds it fast; but when Muscatello filters those solos through a space-age John Scofield aesthetic, it lifts Cohen’s sound above the traditional form to a place all its own.
And that’s a place Cohen thoroughly deserves, given his acumen as player, composer and leader. Every piece of the 90-minute set (penned by Cohen or not) was deliciously rich in detail and color – whether it was the full quintet busting through the eye-crossing intricacy of “WTF?” (You can guess what the acronym stands for!), or it was just Cohen and the rhythm section swirling through the swinging waltz “Last Days.” Watching Cohen physically build his solos was one of the perks of the more intimate stage format, though there were moments when it was like having dinner at a Tokyo steakhouse: There’s this blinding flash of movement, and then something extremely tasty is sitting on a plate in front of you.
Speaking of tasty, let’s get back to Niewood, who never stopped impressing. His solo on “ECM” was warm and full, flowing like water from a spring; in contrast, his lines on the raucous closing band jam “Take the Coltrane” just kept getting freer and wilder. Niewood also used the soprano to brilliant effect on “Tide Over Tune” and “Man-Ehh-Gone” (Cohen’s tribute to bassist John Menegon), but the tenor was where he did his best business. Whelchel and delPrete offered no surprises, in that they did the same stellar job they always do: delPrete’s bass was fatter than Thanksgiving (though I would have liked him to have more solo spots), and Whelchel’s accent work gave Cohen’s music even more texture; also, his straight bebop drumming on “Man-Ehh-Gone” made Muscatello’s guitar sound even spookier.
It is a drag that we had to wait five years for a new Adrian Cohen CD, but like the song says, “Take your time, do it right.” The music of Delphic is resoundingly “right”, and the near-full-house at The Linda got to see it played by a hot, talented quintet that was right on point all through the night.

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.