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I Hear Sparks: Ryan Cohan – Another Look

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With Ryan Cohan‘s brilliant piano flourishes and Joe Locke’s delicately soulful vibes, Another Look is one of those records that just feels smooth all over.

This is my first trip with Cohan and it’s a wonderful ride, I can tell you that. His command over the keys and sharp skill with the compositions makes for some engaging listening, but it’s the interplay with his quartet that really shines on this recording and sets it apart from the rest.

Another Look, out now on Motéma, is the follow-up to Cohan’s critically-acclaimed One Sky from 2007. The new record finds him engaging the band and drawing on those spontaneous musical moments that can only come when truly connected players blast away in a dark room or a smoky bar somewhere.

Ryan Cohan’s Quartet includes Geof Bradfield (tenor and soprano saxophones), Lorin Cohen (bass) and Kobie Watkins (drums). They’ve been playing together since 2003 and clearly learned some valuable lessons along the way. A couple of selections for the Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad program haven’t hurt either.

Special guests Locke and percussionist Steve Kroon help flesh out Another Look, but it’s the core quartet that gives the album its heartbeat. Cohan’s playing is exciting and fresh, gliding all over the place with organic lines and beautiful chording. The band fits snugly into the arrangements and there’s plenty of space to play with.

Cohan’s designs for the record aim to give the listener plenty to dig in to and he accomplishes it with flying colours, offering more than a few “looks” at some rather traditional patterns.

When he takes to Thelonious Monk with the angular twisting of the opening track, “Monk’n Around,” the band parts the waves to open things up. The Cohan composition is sleek and the number soars well beyond mimicry and into an intricately-designed tribute.

The soulful glide of “You & Me” accounts for what is probably my favourite piece. Locke’s vibes are clever and Kroon’s percussion adds some texture. Cohan’s lambent chording grounds things, while the gentle work of Bradfield glides overhead. Nobody presses too hard.

The stellar musicianship is given a personal touch with “Song for My Grandfather.” Cohan’s emotional melody is engaging and his eloquent playing clearly reflects the bond he shared with the song’s subject. It flows wonderfully into the bouncy and spunky “Steppin’ Up” to close out the album.

Another Look flows from deeply personal pieces to more expansive works with confidence. It is an open door to musical possibilities, offering a robust and consistent set of songs that is enjoyable no matter how many looks (or listens) you have to give.

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