You might remember Lorin Cohen as the bassist with the Hip-hop/Jazz group Vertikal You may certainly recall his sojourn with pianist Monty Alexander or with vibraphonist Joe Locke (who appears on this album). Now, however, Cohen has released his debut album in the role of leader, composing and arranging every track on the album "Home." And it is certainly where his heart is.
The musical influences of his life are in full array here. From the Caribbean sounds of South Florida where his family vacationed to bluesy Chicago his hometown to hard edge of New York City's fables Jazz scene where he now resides - all of these places are home to him.
This is not your typical ensemble of piano-bass-drums with an added guitar or horn. This is a mallet-rich recording which means that it is rhythm-rich, as well.
My interest was piqued with the chosen instruments and musicians of vibes (Joe Locke), harmonica (Yvonnick Prene), Steel Pan (Victor Provost), piano (Ryan Cohan) and percussion (Samuel Torres). Expectancy was replaced with excitement when I saw that it was Donald Edwards on drums. Edwards has proven again and again that he can fulfill any need or desire from the music and the musicians around him. I could not wait to hear him alongside Lorin Cohen's double bass.
It is Edwards' rolling thunder that opens the album on "Crossings." Ryan Cohan on piano and Joe Locke on vibes pull back the curtain to reveal what is to come.
"Crossings" is a heavy-hitting piece and it is clear that rhythm is going to trump melody from the beginning. Don't misunderstand me - there are extraordinarily beautiful passages of melody throughout the whole album but rhythm carries the day. It is the swing that captivates. Joe Locke and Ryan Cohan are marvelous together on this first track. Lorin and Donald are riveting. Yeah, riveting.
Yvonnick Prene's harmonica and Cohan's piano introduce "Always in My Heart." It is charming and wistful. The Steel Pan of Victor Provost joins in with piano and vibes to create an international meeting of Trinidad-France-Chicago before the New York ambassadors - Cohen and Edwards - come to play.
What must always be in Lorin Cohen's heart are the styles and venues where he heard the music that he loves/ Especially the Caribbean textures of Steel Pan and Edwards' Latin licks. This is a fabulous piece.
"Finding Center" gets the listener back to New York City quickly, even with the Steel Pan of Provost. There is a great groove here and Cohen and Edwards are just the guys to exploit it. Locke contributes the lighter percussion to offset the deep rhythms of Edwards.
Cohen's bass solo on "Finding Center" is direct and to-the-point. Samuel Torres fills out the percussion section and the outcome is a work of great precision and propulsion.
That doesn't relent on "Anthem," another piece painted in the Jazz clubs of New York City. "Anthem" is a showcase for Ryan Cohen on piano and Joe Locke's vibraphone. Cohan's left hand provides some of the most memorable pulses of deep melody. Again, Cohen and Edwards are remarkable. Edwards absolutely puts on a clinic here. The broken rhythm at the end is short but staggering.
It is "The Sweetest Soul" that is the most reflective piece on the album. It is dedicated to Lorin Cohen's father - "My wonderful father," Cohen calls him. It is a reminiscence on bowed bass. The piano is sweet and the Steel Pan is warm and relaxed. Surely, Cohen was remembering poolside music in South Florida and I'm not certain but I thought I caught a nod and wink to "Young at Heart." If the piece is a description of Mr. Cohen, Sr., he must have been sweet indeed.
"Saudade" is another Caribbean excursion. Provost and Prene with Cohan create an early Spyro Gyra mood. But Lorin's bass is a thing all his own. The light-handed rhythms and cymbals of Edwards are tight on it with Torres' percussion. This is a track that is fun and free. A complete treasure.
"The Hero's Journey" could be subtitled "Joseph Campbell Goes to Gotham." It is a quest, certainly, but in great company. Cohen is on fire and Edwards lets fly with some of the most intriguing and rewarding drumming of the whole album and that is saying something. The bass solo shows Cohen as the true leader that he is - even in a debut album. This just may be the hottest piece of all.
The album ends with "Brighter Day." It is idealistic and optimistic. It is filed with hope and life, energy and love. Cohan, Provost and Prene mix it up finely between and with each other. Edwards and Torres are exciting. But Lorin Cohen is the anchor to it all.
"Home" is one of the most autobiographically descriptive albums ever. The travels, the influences, the hopes, the loves of Lorin Cohen are on full-colored display. He leaves you feeling like you have been friends since childhood. It is a well-developed album with an enlightened self-awareness. And this is his debut.