By Ed Enright | Published August 2020
Six integrally linked compositions constitute Originations, on which Chicago-based pianist and composer Ryan Cohan explores the assimilation of his reawakened Arab lineage and his Jewish upbringing.
Created with the support of a Chamber Music America New Jazz Works commission, Originations brings a broad spectrum of disparate musical influences and sensibilities into focus as Cohan assimilates Middle Eastern and North African themes, Western classical music elements and modern jazz into a series of intricately crafted pieces that add up to one extended work. And in so doing, Cohan makes his most complex compositional statement to date.
Originations was recorded by an 11-piece chamber-jazz group deliberately assembled by Cohan to bring his multicultural, multinational vision to life. The ensemble, led by Cohan at the piano, is staffed with some of Chicago’s top instrumentalists and improvisers: woodwind doublers John Wojciechowski and Geof Bradfield, trumpeter/flugelhornist Tito Carrillo, bassist James Cammack, drummer Michael Raynor, percussionist Omar Musfi and the Kaia String Quartet. They put considerable thought and feeling into their interpretation of Cohan’s highly compelling masterwork, surfing on waves of dynamics and casting a dramatic arc on every phrase.
The album starts on a hopeful note with “The Hours Before Dawn,” which creates a sensation of daylight blooming as Cohan’s piano cadenza evolves into an ostinato bass groove and Bradfield greets the morning with a sunny bass-clarinet improvisation. Things get a little more hectic on track 2, “Imaginary Lines,” which progresses from an elegant solo-clarinet statement by Wojciechowski into a full-band mosaic of snaky instrumental lines and punchy hits. From there, the program continues to play out like a suite. To Cohan, “Heart” represents compassion and the beauty of the human soul, while “Sabra” evokes the tenacity and warmheartedness of Israeli Jews. “A Seeker’s Soul” looks to the future with restless curiosity and a courageous sense of discovery before “Essence” closes the show with its celebratory leaps and jumps. Originations is striking and inviting by its very nature, with a special blend of refreshing melodies, warm instrumental tones and catchy rhythmic devices that make for an extremely pleasant listening experience.