Reviewers sometimes get too caught up playing the label game: jazz, pop, world (Ah, the ambiguous catch-all label), rock, ambient. Whenever a writer struggles with material that lacks a definite musical anchor, I am reminded of the transformation seen through Miles Davis' electric years. Squeaky horns, abusive guitars, fuzzed-out keyboards, all woven together with constantly shifting, obscenely polyrhythmic percussion. It was jazz, pop, rock, ambient, and a handful of other things. Forget the category, nothing sounded like this.
Trumpeter Avishai Cohen takes the Miles model of sound diversity and moves it in two directions at once: toward the modern and the organic. That might sound like a full-on contradiction in terms but it's not.
Cohen brings with him West African guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke. That world folk influence is often paired against a trumpet that's given the heavy effects treatment. "Parto Forte" is a fine example of this, with the lilting guitar giving way to some brutally distorted horn passages. The more traditional (from a jazz perspective) "Afterthoughts" has Cohen sharing the blues with Jason Linder's Fender Rhoades. It's on this tune that Cohen is squarely in the old-school Miles camp. Still, the presence of Loueke's vocals (sung in Fon, the language of country of Benin) give the music a decidedly organic feel, despite the pull toward the modern.
All of these flavors come together on the ultra-intense "African Daisy (La Suite African)". The opening chords, delivered with an almost rock swagger, set up the harmonic boundaries that will inspire the improvisations to follow. Everybody takes a turn but it's Cohen who stretches out with first a more proper "Jazz solo" before applying the electronics and heading off to freak-land. With a sound reminiscent of Miles-meets-Don Cheery-meets Cuong Vu (and lifted by the stellar percussion of Daniel Freedman), Cohen's explorations had me tweeking the volume on several occasions. I just couldn't help myself.
After The Big Rain can be safely placed on your shelf in the section on West African music. Or jazz... or pop or.... Take your pick. Unless you're that uptight, it shouldn't diminish the pleasure gained from this wide-ranging and exhilarating music.