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Take Five: Bria Skonberg, Avishai Cohen, Diego Barber, Anat Cohen, Chad Lefkowitz-Brown

Georgia Nerheim
Bria Skonberg

It’s the middle of May, on the nose. There’s an old tune that begins with that premise, but we’re not going to revisit it here. Instead, Take Five brings you “Whatever Lola Wants,” as performed by Bria Skonberg — along with tracks by two Cohens and a Barber. We’ll also hear from a saxophonist who has been out on tour with Taylor Swift. And now, as he would have it: Onward!

Bria Skonberg, “Whatever Lola Wants”

Not long ago, if you knew Bria Skonberg, you probably knew her as a charming trumpeter who made the occasional foray into singing. Her new release, With a Twist, inverts that ratio: It’s a jazz vocal album with a gloss of pop sophistication, drawing not only from Pops but also Pérez Prado, among others. The album, due out on OKeh/Masterworks this Friday, features a top-flight rhythm section — pianist Sullivan Fortner, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Matt Wilson — along with arrangements by Gil Goldstein. (The producer is Matt Pierson.) “Whatever Lola Wants,” which premieres here, strikes a balance of smoky ambience and come-hither panache, with a succinct but effective 16-bar trumpet solo. 

Diego Barber, “Atlas”

Diego Barber, originally from the Canary Islands, is a guitarist whose music draws from modern jazz, classical and Spanish folk music, in a shifting balance. One Minute Later — his intoxicating new album, due out on Friday on Sunnyside — reflects a turn toward Andalusian customs, even as it hums along a post-bop frequency. This track, “Atlas,” has the curvaceous contour and intricate detail you’d associate with a Pat Metheny composition, but very much in Barber’s voice.

The bassist is Ben Williams, who works with Metheny; the drummer is Eric Harland. On percussion, playing marimba here, is a young virtuoso named Alejandro Coello, whose skill set inspired some of Barber’s writing. Listen to how the band breathes together, especially in the dynamic swell that carries them toward the finish.

Avishai Cohen, “50 Years and Counting”

The Israeli trumpeter Avishai Cohen made a powerfully ruminative statement with his 2016 album Into the Silence, featuring a rhythm section of pianist Yonathan Avishai, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Nasheet Waits. Cohen’s equally gorgeous new album, Cross My Palm With Silver, reenlists most of the same players but to a more exploratory effect. (Barak Mori, a friend since high school days in Tel Aviv, replaces Revis on bass.)

There’s grace and lyricism in the album’s original themes, but always with a tensile undertow. “50 Years and Counting” — its title a possible reference to Israeli occupation of the West Bank — features a mournful melody over buoyant polyrhythmic swing. Cohen’s playing brims with charisma, at one point calling Wynton Marsalis to mind, while the piano solo deepens a bittersweet intrigue.

Anat Cohen, “Baião Da Esperança”

Here’s another track by a Cohen — one of the 3 Cohens, as a matter of fact. Anat is the clarinetist in the family, a sparkplug who has proven herself especially adept with Brazilian rhythm. “Baião Da Esperança” is the opening track of Rosa Dos Ventos, her irresistible new album with Trio Brasileiro.

Rosa Dos Ventos is one of two Brazilian albums that Cohen released this spring, along with Outra Coisa, featuring guitarist Marcello Gonçalves. It’s a celebration of choro, the popular Brazilian folk music, which Cohen has been playing for years. She is now in the midst of a tour with Trio Brasileiro; they play the Jazz Standard on Tuesday and Wednesday, before heading to Europe.

Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, “Onward”

There’s a chance you’ve heard saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown on one of his gigs as a sideman: with the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, perhaps, or with Taylor Swift. (No judgment here.) Onward is his new solo album, featuring a robust young band.

The title track, which also opens the album, has the onrushing modal fire of a 1990s Young Lion sparring session. (Go ahead, listen to the polyrhythmic swagger of drummer Jimmy Macbride and try not to hear echoes of Jeff “Tain” Watts.) Elsewhere on the album, Lefkowitz-Brown essays songbook standards and even John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” occasionally with an assist from trumpeter Randy Brecker. But here, in “Onward,” is where you really get a feel for his driving sense of purpose.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.