Turning to a global canvas of shape-shifting beauty, we find the creation of dynamic pianist, composer and arranger, Ryan Cohan, who leads a stellar big band joined by the Kaia String Quartet in performance of his original compositions on the CD, Originations [Origin Records]. This is music of open-eared exploration with a wide-open musical terrain where Arab melodies and rhythms meld with jazz and classical roots to inspire and beguile. The music allows capacious space for each musician to delight in their own instrument's colors and textures to transform Cohan's globe-spanning creation. The superb recording captures all of the diverse energy and dynamic contrasts in Cohan's music with an up-front, crisp presence that delivers all the airy timbres and textures of this unique collective.
Each chapter of Originations contains surprising gifts of rhythmic beauty and melodic grace. Cohan's inventions include soft shimmering ballads, such as his willowy "Heart," propulsive and inviting on its dipping string caresses and the soaring colors of Tito Carrillo's flugelhorn. The ensemble can also dance and soar, as on Cohan's playful "Sabra" that swarms with staccato string lightness and teeming percussion, with Geof Bradfield's pungent bass clarinet weaving its breathy, serpentine drama. "The Hours Before Dawn" evolves slowly on tremulous strings, plucky piano and the deep throb of bass clarinet alongside Michael Raynor and Omar Musfi's rousing percussion. The prickly "Imaginary Lines" moves in quick pulses with John Wojciechowski's clarinet nestled in Carrillo's crisp trumpet calls. The adventure concludes with Cohan's magnetic centerpiece, "Essence", where a beautiful calm is followed by a dashing, dancing riot of instrumental colors. Here is a coiled blast of the blues, a pulse of a rhumba and a dash of bebop (in Wojciechowski's playful flute solo) all dancing to Cohan's sprawling vision. Palestinian, Israeli, Jordanian - there are no borders to Cohan's music: optimistic, rambunctious and flowing in its boundless quest for unity, light and dance.