Jazz CD Reviews

Ryan Cohan – Another Look – Motema Music Corp

The results here are superb - with one glaring exception.

Published on May 1, 2011

Ryan Cohan – Another Look – Motema Music Corp

Ryan Cohan – Another Look – Motema Music Corp.  2010, 66:13  ****:

(Ryan Cohan – piano;  Geof Bradfield – tenor & soprano sax, bass clarinet;  Lorin Cohen – acoustic bass;  Kobie Watkins – drums;  Joe Locke – vibes;  Steve Kroon – percussion)

Ryan Cohan is a Chicago-based pianist, composer and arranger.  He teamed up with Ramsey Lewis starting in 1997 with Lewis adopting over a dozen of his songs.  In 2009 he became a Guggenheim fellow for composition.  Cohan fits squarely into the post bop camp with a nice Blue Note-ish feel reminiscent of Hancock, Corea, Tyner, Powell and his own self pronounced admiration for Kenny Kirkland.  He’s been praised for his many skills – including the ability to make a sextet sound like a big band on earlier recordings through his arrangement skills and insight.

For his fourth solo release he wanted a more spontaneous and live feel, so it was recorded just after his working quartet came off the road.  For variety, they are supplemented by vibist Joe Locke and percussionist Steve Kroon.  And the results are superb – with one glaring exception.

The disc begins with a ten-second bass figure, followed by the entrance of drums.  A very well-recorded start.  Short sax and piano statements are followed by a nice vibe solo.  Then comes extended piano and sax solos.  All Cohan’s talents come to the fore from the get go.

Track two just jumps out of the speakers with drummer Watkins strutting his stuff after a particularly fine piano performance.  Cohan’s arrangement skills and overall talent are shown in abundance here.

"You & Me" slows things down with a beautifully gentle composition showing the band’s versatility with a nice use of percussion effects.  Yeah, these guys are good.

Track four is a mid-tempo Cohan tune featuring a repetitive bass figure, nice vibes, adventurous percussion, superlative piano and saxist Bradfield’s most fitting solo.  It evokes a nice 1960s feel of a Rudy van Gelder session.

The band’s piano/bass/drums trio treatment of "Caravan" is interesting with the Latin feel provided by Kroon’s supplemental percussion.  A nice soundstage; Cohan’s command of his instrument is made apparent and contains a very fine bass solo.

The solo saxophone introduction to "Gentle Souls" (track seven) is fine – but once the full piece starts a big problem arises.  There is severe distortion throughout (particularly the soprano sax, piano and vibes).  This digital age equivalent of awful tape saturation or microphone malfunction is totally unforgiving and ruins the track.  I even went as far as seeing if my PSB Stratus Gold i’s drivers needed tightening – thinking that the problem was perhaps frequency-response-related buzzing.  Nope.  Unless it exists just on my copy, I’m amazed that this obvious problem made it past the mastering process.  This robs an otherwise excellent disc of 6:57 of music.  Really, I’m astounded by this fault.

"Another Look" returns to mid-tempo post-bop vibes-driven build up with creative percussion and the usual superlative piano statement.  Just solidly top-flight playing with only a mention of sax.

The intro to "Song for My Grandfather" shows Cohan’s classical influence.  The main trio piece itself is gorgeous.  Once again piano/bass/drums with Cohan doing some humming which is not nearly as intrusive as Keith Jarrett.

The final track is up tempo with a driving bass under piano and cymbals before the full drum kit enters.  Both Cohan and Locke are then super strong in their statements.  Drummer Watkins does some trading before the disc closes out with a brief bass clarinet (I think) contribution.

So you have a first rate pianist, composer and arranger with a fully realized vision resulting in an outstanding album.  But the distortion-plagued track seven is included.  For me, this reduces the time on the disc from 66:13 to 59:16 (10 tracks instead of 11).   My puzzlement remains, but the ten very high quality tracks are enthusiastically recommended.

TrackList:  Monkin’ Around;  Joshua; You & Me;  This or That;  Caravan;  (Intro) Gentle Souls;  Gentle Souls; Another Look;  (Intro) Song for My Grandfather;  Song for My Grandfather;  Steppin’ Up

—  Birney K. Brown

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