Hearing Aide: Tomer Cohen Showcases Original Approach to Jazz Guitar with Debut “Not the Same River”

A recent import to New York’s forever evolving jazz scene, 25-year-old guitarist-composer Tomer Cohen notches a notable debut with his album, Not the Same River (Hypnote Records).  It’s a collection that showcases not only an originality of compositional approach, but a distinctive, fingerstyle and folk shaded playing technique that could one day launch him into the upper reaches of the jazz guitar strata.

cohen tomer not the same river

The album title, Cohen explains in the press release, relates to an expression by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus: No man ever steps in the same river twice, for its not the same river and hes not the same man. “That’s the sentence that encompasses all the compositions on the album,” Cohen said. “We are constantly in motion, we’re always changing, and we just need to accept that.”

Cohen demonstrates his unique fingerstyle-and-pick technique on eight thoughtful compositions reflecting his pastoral upbringing, from age 4 to 21, on a kibbutz in Israel. “The kibbutz is located in the countryside and has a strong sense of community,” he recalled. “I used to play outside with my guitar, watching the fields and the blue sky. I believe some of that vibe is reflected in some of the tunes on this record.”  The guitarist is expertly accompanied on this varied collection by the fluid drumming of Obed Calvaire (a current member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis) and the rootsy grooves and frequent soloing of bassist Matt Penman (formerly with the SFJAZZ Collective).

Critics have made smart comparisons of Cohen to players like Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell, influences acknowledged by the guitarist, but I may hear even more of the late, great Mick Goodrick in his style. 

For those not in the know, though Goodrick recorded with the likes of Gary Burton, Jim Hall, Charlie Haden and many more, he may be better known as the Berklee School of Music educator who nurtured Frisell, John Scofield, Mike Stern, Julian Lage and many more of today’s leading jazz guitarists.  Goodrick also authored a key educational primer for practicing guitarists, jazz and otherwise, The Advancing Guitarist. Like Goodrick, young Cohen is quickly becoming a master of subtly weaving chords and melody, and in serving up expected harmonic turns in his solos and compositions.  Collectively, his trio are musicians who are doing some serious listening as they play, err more appropriately interplay. There’s nothing rote or cliched to be found in these grooves, which are expertly recorded and mastered.  It’s a music of the mind that never sacrifices the passion and soulfulness.

cohen tomer not the same river

Cohen’s unique technique is apparent right from the album opener, the title track, “Not the Same River.” There’s a boatload of Metheny’s “As Wichita Falls” to be found in this pastoral composition and in the appropriately titled “Pastures.” The latter is a more energetic number fueled by some knotty single note soloing from the guitarist and one of bassist Penman’s many solos of the album. Penman also stands out on “First Lap.” He kicks this off with an unaccompanied solo before its moves into a chill melody and chordal workout from Cohen. Drummer Calvaire steals the show with a thundering solo on both the opening and the outro of “Connecting the Dots.”  Calvaire again gets the chance to show his range and power, and Cohen his remarkable chops as a technician and composer, on my favorite track on the album, the time-shifting, melodically tricky “Probably More Than Two.” 

With his fingerpicked chord and melody stylings, it would be interesting to hear Cohen record an unaccompanied solo disc.  We get a taste of what that might sound like when his rhythm section drops out for a time in the middle of “Empty?”

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