Avishai Cohen and Big Vicious: Ambient, Psychedelic Jazz

Trumpet player Avishai Cohen launched his exuberant, home-grown band Big Vicious six years ago, after relocating from the US to his native Israel, rounding up players to shape the music from the ground up, and co-writing much of its newest material together with them.

Big Vicious incorporates textures from electronica, ambient music and psychedelia, with grooves and beats from rock, pop, trip-hop and more. The group have just released the new single ‘Honey Fountain’ on the ECM Records label.

The group draws upon long-standing friendships. Avishai Cohen and guitarist Uzi Ramirez attended the same high school in Tel Aviv. And guitarist/bassist Jonathan Albalak and drummer Aviv Cohen, both from Jerusalem, have played together in diverse ensembles since the early 2000s. Ziv Ravitz, recruited as second drummer in 2018, completed the line-up, with a brief to bring some of the colours and energies of Avishai’s acoustic quartet – with whom Ziv has toured extensively – into Big Vicious’s musical vocabulary.

Writing sessions for Big Vicious’s debut album took place in the studio of Tel Aviv musician-producer Yuvi Havkin. This communal approach to creating was a new departure for Avishai Cohen, who had not previously written together with other musicians. “It’s made a huge difference, having everybody involved in the writing. There was a lot of discussion about what we wanted the music to be and how it should sound”.

Intense monitoring of live recordings preceded the studio work. Ziv Ravitz: “In jazz bands you don’t really do that. You play the concert and whatever happened, happened. But we would sit down in the van together and listen many times to each show. Saying: let’s tweak this part, let’s look again at this…”. “It was like analysing soccer games every night,” says Avishai. “It was great. Fine tuning the music, zooming in on the pieces, finding little details to improve.”

If this reflects “more of a pop mentality” as Ziv Ravitz suggests, the recording in Studios La Buissonne in the South of France with Manfred Eicher producing, was characteristically improvisational. Avishai: “We may have worked on the music for months, but finally the vibe on the album is our vibe on those three days of recording. It still feels like jazz in that way.”

Big Vicious’s debut is Avishai Cohen’s fourth album on the ECM label. It follows the quintet recording Into The Silence (2015), the quartet album Cross My Palm With Silver (2016), and the duo album with pianist Yonathan Avishai Playing The Room (2018).