Bill Furbee

“In ten years Avishai Cohen will be a legend,” says Dr. Polina Bespalko, Xavier University music instructor and coordinator of the university’s music series. “His voice is so unique yet he is full of deep musical roots.” 

Bespalko, a Russian native and Xavier Piano professor, coordinates jazz and classical piano concerts on campus. 

On Friday, March 22, the Avishai Cohen Quartet performed at Xavier University. 

“It was fantastic, truly special,” Bespalko shares. “Avishai is incredible and brought with him a strictly Israeli group.” 

She notes the audience was eager for a performance exploring the more obscure and creative side of jazz music, which Cohen delivered in spades. “Avishai is approaching Jazz from such a different and such a creative angle. The reason I invited him is because I admire that bravery. It was a very intellectual concert, on top of beautiful music. There was magic in the air.” 

Cohen’s performance included the reading of a poem and a dedication to Syria. “It was a little bit of politics, a little bit of spirituality, his own thoughts, his own spiritual findings,” Bespalko says. 

“To me, as a person with classical roots,” she continues, “I felt like I was at a classical music recital, in terms of how the instruments interacted with themselves. It was so seamless, it sounded like one big instrument. It was an incredible connection between the heart, the soul and the brain.” 

Cohen’s latest work, only his second album, is “Cross My Palm With Silver,” which finds the trumpeter as one of the most heralded artists on the contemporary Jazz landscape. It was produced by Manfred Eicher at Studios La Buissonne in the south of France and released as he hit the road for a European tour, followed by a worldwide tour in 2017. 

Fans and critics alike have embraced Cohen. Jazz Magazine France​ named Cohen “Best Foreign Artist” in 2016; his debut Into the Silence​ was named “Album of the Year” by TSF Jazz and Academie du Jazz. It was also declared a Top 20 album of the year by JazzTimes​. The past four years have seen Cohen listed as a Rising Star in the Trumpet category for DownBeat magazine’s Critics Poll. 

At Xavier, Cohen took part in a Master Class which allowed him the opportunity to interact with students. 

“People instantly loved him,” Bespalko shares, noting his remarkable charisma and personality. “He’s an incredible scholar, he knows every single detail of every jazz player before him, and studies all of that in depth. He knows the rules, he studies them, he adopts them, but he also breaks them in such a delicate manner to create his own language.” 

Bill Furbee writes about arts and entertainment for The American Israelite. You can reach him at entertainment@americanisraelite.com

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