Acclaimed Chicago based pianist/composer Ryan Cohan is bringing the compositions from his recently released album The River to Los Angeles’ popular downtown jazz room Blue Whale on November 14 at 9pm. Joining him on this gig will be Bob Sheppard on sax and flute, Joe La Barbera on drums and Lorin Cohen on bass. The cover will be $15.
A river is both a place and a journey, intimately connected to the locales along its route while moving inexorably forward. On his fifth CD, The River (2013, Motéma Music), Cohan navigates a path that courses through East Africa and his native Chicago, reflecting the sights, sounds and emotions along its shoreline. In its sweeping musical landscape, Ryan’s vivid suite fluidly commingles the ancient and the modern, the spontaneous and the impressionistic, the cerebral and the passionate.
Cohan’s most ambitious work to date, The River was inspired by a trip to the tumultuous regions of Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and the Democratic Republic of Congo sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Chosen by a panel that included State Department officials as well as Wynton Marsalis and other members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Cohan was chosen as a musical ambassador in the tradition of Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, and Duke Ellington, all of whom toured conflict-riven nations to spread goodwill through jazz.
Cohan has since undertaken three more tours under the State Department’s auspices, taking his band to Europe and the Middle East. But that initial voyage to Africa made such a powerful impression that he decided to depict it via the concert-length suite that comprises The River. On the album the ensemble is expanded to a septet, with woodwind players Geof Bradfield and John Wojciechowski, trumpeter Tito Carrillo, bassist Lorin Cohen, drummer Kobie Watkins, and percussionist Samuel Torres.
The suite, commissioned by Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works program, takes on the form of a river journey. Each movement reflects a stop on the adventure, with improvised solo and duo intervals representing a return to the ceaseless momentum of the river itself. It begins, as any journey must, with a departure: a virtuosic solo turn by Cohan that is by turns elegant and explosive, flowing as a river does from the placid to the turbulent. The same theme recurs in the suite’s closing piece, “Coming Home,” here expressed by the full ensemble and reflecting the rich tapestry of sensations and experiences now behind them.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote that you can never step into the same river twice, for it’s never the same river and you’re never the same person. As Cohan wades into this particular river, he brings to it his experiences working with many notable artists and jazz luminaries such as Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller, Paquito D’Rivera, and Ramsey Lewis; four prior CDs of original music that have met with critical acclaim, with the latest, Another Look, hailed as “a model for modern jazz piano albums” by ICON Magazine; and two decades of compositional brilliance that have led to a Guggenheim Fellowship and grants from Chamber Music America, American Music Center and the Aaron Copland Foundation, among others.