WBGO Radar

Brian Lynch & Emmet Cohen: Questioned Answer

Brian Lynch & Emmet Cohen

Jazz has a way of finding its way. Roads intersect unexpectedly. Fresh encounters lead to new dimensions, as new hands rise up to carry this music forward.

A cruise ship off the coast of Florida was the site of one such encounter. On board, Brian Lynch – one of the finest and most versatile trumpeters of his generation - met and played with a young pianist named Emmet Cohen.

“I was really impressed with his playing, and I dug the young man’s personality, enthusiasm and knowledge of the jazz tradition,” Lynch recalls.

Then 21, Cohen was already something of a ringer. Born in Miami, he had grown up in Montclair, New Jersey. Through his teens could frequently be found, day and night, at the grand piano at Cecil’s in West Orange.

A musical friendship was born. When Lynch returned to Miami a few months later to teach at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, the pair reunited and spent the better part of a year playing, talking about, and thinking about music together.

Within a year of that first encounter, Cohen would be a finalist in both the American Pianists Association Cole Porter Fellowship and Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. Now 24 and based in New York, Cohen is well on his way in jazz.

“The true source of knowledge and information (in jazz) has always been and always will be a mentor/mentee relationship,” says Cohen. His friendship with Lynch, he adds, “has afforded me just that element of authenticity in my musical journey.”

The fruit of Lynch and Cohen's year of musical exchange is the album Questioned Answer, which they co-led with bassist Boris Koslov and drummer Billy Hart, another of Cohen’s mentors – and a former neighbor from Montclair.

The album features three originals each by Lynch and Cohen, as well as  standards by Irving Berlin, Harry Warren, and Sammy Cahn.

Lynch’s “Cambios” sets the tone for the session: understatement, clarity of tone, conception, and execution, and a constant state of swing. When combined, these elements create opportunities to take dazzling solos, as for Koslov and Hart do here. Cohen’s “Dark Passenger” takes a more atmospheric approach, creating a cinematic palette over a modal vamp.

On several tunes Cohen starts to play by emphasizing a single note – as if all of harmony and melody could unspool from that single moment in musical time – and on this session, they do.

On Irving Berlin’s “How Deep Is the Ocean,” Cohen demonstrates his remarkable range and abilities, which evoke both Chick Corea and Earl “Fatha” Hines at his most adventurous.

Lynch’s  “Buddy” embodies all the hallmarks and beauty of his trumpet playing – always impeccable tone, relaxed timing and phrasing, and an intoxicating sense of groove that is informed by his years of playing in both straight-ahead and Latin jazz settings.

Cohen’s “Petty Theft” offers a high point in the interaction between all four musicians, showcasing the way musicians constantly “borrow” from one another.

In the case of Questioned Answer, we are fortunate that these thieves have found each other, and have invited us to share in what feels like, to paraphrase John Huston, the start of a beautiful friendship.

Lynch and Cohen celebrate the release of the CD at New York’s Jazz Gallery  on Oct. 31.

   - Tim Wilkins, WBGO digital content manager

 

 

 

 

 

 

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