The best jazz recordings of 2020 to date:
Savvy listeners already know that Chicago pianist-composer Cohan has a well-honed gift for writing long-form jazz compositions. It reaches a high point in "Originations," a suite Cohan performed to vivid effect at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival in 2018. The new recording deepens earlier favorable impressions of the piece, which amounts to a series of tone poems in which Cohan explores his Middle Eastern heritage - Jewish and Arabic. Those two cultures share a great deal of history and musical lineage, Cohan building on that foundation via jazz technique. If the meditative, mystical qualities of "The Hours Before Dawn" draw you into the work, the translucent instrumentation of "Imaginary Lines" and other compositions keep you there. The collaboration between Cohan's jazz ensemble and the Kaia String Quartet point to a composer who transcends "jazz plus strings" clichés.