Sophistication and fluidity layered with harmonic sensibility and an urgency of searching beyond the immediate permeates Emmet Cohen's individuality as a jazz pianist with roots in classical repertoire.
His style takes me into the same kind of reflective, poetic intellect of Steve Allee's approach to recasting standards and creating original works. One can kick back and let it wash over or lean forward and find wisps of new takes on old tunes, spinning and spiraling — sometimes cascading — into a flow of emotions making this very moment particular, achingly ephemeral.
Cohen clearly connected with Nick Tucker on bass and Kenny Phelps on drums. They were breathing together. Cohen commented, "It's amazing how this language called jazz can get people who haven't been together to speak with one another intuitively, intimately."
The program opened with what Cohen referred to as "my favorite theme" — Sammy Fain's "That Old Feeling" "the theme song appearing in multiple films 1937-1997". Slow and easy teasing on the keyboard grew into trio up tempo, a frenzy disappearing into quiet picking out the tune, piano slowing to pendulum time, fading into echo of bass and drum. Joe Burke and Edgar Leslie's "Moon Over Miami" went from dreamy ballad into sexy bossa nova, split into two conversations with Tucker and Phelps on a steady beat, Cohen chasing tempos around them, catching up, going into cat's feet mode, mincing into swing to playing off each other for a crash closing.
Along the way the program had covered Gene de Paul's "You Don't Know What I Love" and Billie Holliday's "Darn that Dream" before we got the impact of Cohen's partnership with trumpeter Brian Lynch, particularly their haunting "Distant Hallow." "Who's Getting the BB3" refers to a gig with Benny Benack III as a glyph off Kenny Hubbard and a T.S. Elliott poem with images of hibernation, waking up, happiness and April — a bit of a introspective fun featuring Tucker and Phelps before they bowed out for Cohen's introspective, bluesy ballad solo that morphed into Ahmad Jamal's "Ahmad's Blues." A bittersweet "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and a military march-bookended "Black and Tan Fantasy" were full of extrapolations, with Tucker and then Phelps gaining space to showcase their virtuosity. Cohen closed with a holiday encore as riffs on Christmas tunes.