By Gary Fukushima | Published June 2019
Though pianist Emmet Cohen mines gems from the vaults of jazz history on this new trio effort, some deep listening reveals hints of modernism trending towards anachronism, like wearing skinny jeans and Vans below a coat and tails.
Still in his 20s, Cohen—winner of the 2019 American Pianists Awards—is part of the future of jazz, yet he’s gone vintage, faithfully paying homage to the old piano masters. On this live recording at the Dirty Dog Café, just outside of Detroit, ghosts are floating above the stage. Jelly Roll Morton and Fats Waller are there, no doubt admiring Cohen’s left hand, as he strides through a rendition of Waller’s formidable étude “Handful Of Keys”. Cohen’s right is tossing off shimmering passages, conjuring apparitions of Duke Ellington, Earl Hines and Art Tatum.
The album’s tour de force, the torch song “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” is Ahmad Jamal’s uptempo arrangement, elaborated on by Cohen, with bassist Russell Hall and drummer Kyle Poole mystically channeling Israel Crosby and Vernel Fournier, respectively. They capture the signature hushed intensity of the original, steadily and irresistibly teasing their way to an explosive peak that dissipates into the ether.
Flying close to these celestial luminaries risks a scorching comparison. Cohen would be the first to acknowledge he hasn’t bested the heavyweights, but by deciding to play ball, he surely honors what they’ve achieved. One final feat Cohen and his trio are able to procure from the old-timers here is to make virtuosic, breathtaking music carefree and entertaining, an under-appreciated, yet visceral, proof of early-jazz greatness.
Dirty In Detroit: Teo; Darn That Dream; Jitterbug Waltz; Squeeze Me; You Don’t Know What Love Is; Bremond’s Blues; Keeping Out Of Mischief/Two Sleepy People; Ain’t Misbehavin’; ’Round Midnight; Honeysuckle Rose/Handful Of Keys. (56:59)
Personnel: Emmet Cohen, piano; Russell Hall, bass; Kyle Poole, drums.