The Arty Semite

Monday Music: Gabriele Coen's Anxious 'Awakening'

By Eileen Reynolds

  • Print
  • Share Share
Courtesy Gabriele Coen

Gabriele Coen’s “Awakening” is a dark, moody collection of pieces built around complex, syncopated rhythms and long, spinning melodies in minor modes. Coen and his band mates are clearly accomplished jazz musicians, and together they produce moments of understated elegance. But don’t think of playing this album at your next cocktail party — your guests would likely take their conversations into another room. This is music that not only demands active listening, but also seems designed to engender anxiety.

The album’s title track, which clocks in at over eight minutes, alternates between high tension and relative calm without ever building to a particularly cathartic climax. It starts with a chaotic drum fill accompanied by improvised squeaks and blats from Coen’s saxophone before settling into a rhythmic groove laid down by the bass.

Listen to ‘Awakening’:

The other rhythm instruments are layered in — guitar first, then piano — before the saxophone enters with a saucy, snaking melodic line. Variations on this theme continue for several minutes as the basic melody alternates with ever-more frantic solos from Coen and cellist Benny Penazzi. As the six-minute mark approaches, the comfortable groove totally breaks down: the cello scrambles upward with eerie harmonics and scraping sounds, the piano bangs out mismatched treble chords before dropping out entirely, and everything comes to nervous almost-stillness before the piano re-enters with the now-familiar syncopated bass line. The saxophone and other instruments join in for a reprise of the original melody, first at its original tempo, then — in a final flourish — at twice the original speed.

Most of the pieces on the album follow a similar form: A relentless bass groove, sometimes in a mixed meter, provides the foundation for meandering and increasingly virtuosic solos; Coen seems able to play forever on a single breath; the mood alternates between sober melancholy and nervous agitation. A Carl Jung quote printed in the liner notes suggests a tension between inner turmoil and externalized desire: “He who looks outside his own heart DREAMS, he who looks inside his own heart AWAKENS.”

A certain Jungian unrest seems to run throughout the album, though there are, of course, variations in tone. “No Hay Boda Sin Pandero,” has a Latin flavor, with Simone Haggiag playing bongo and congas. “Vibes,” featuring Luca Coponi, is rhythmically cleaner and more sparsely orchestrated than some of the other pieces, which makes the juxtapositions between the metronomic ostinato patterns and the freer solo passages all the more pleasing. One of my favorites is “Merry-Go-Round,” a subdued piece with a lilting harmony that allows Coen’s saxophone to sing sweetly.

Another highlight is “Di Sapozhelekh,” a piece in which Coen explores the characteristic mixture of sorrow and wild exuberance at the heart of klezmer music. He gives a bravura clarinet performance, though his playful pitch-bending is occasionally a bit liberal for my taste. The piano and guitar solos halfway through the piece provide a welcome and unexpected contrast.

Listening to this album, there are moments when I find myself wishing that the music would settle down a bit. I long for moments of pause, for melodies that don’t always circle back on themselves, and for shorter, more tightly structured pieces. I’m not sure, finally, whether I’m responding to some flaw in the music, or if my discomfort is a consequence of my own peculiar temperament. Tension is what propels this music forward, and the album is at its weakest where that feeling of angst wanes. “Shemesh,” with its sunny, consonant piano harmonies and wailing saxophone melody, bears an unfortunate resemblance to the more insipid varieties of smooth jazz. The effect is heightened by the piece’s placement near the end of the album — just after the grand and stormy (and, I would argue, supremely overwrought) “Nostalgia.”

Coen’s music is at its best where it is most difficult — and most likely to make me feel nervous. It’s not what I’d choose to listen to all day, but surely there’s something to be said for music that demands so much emotional investment.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Simone Hagiag, Music, Luca Coponi, Klezmer, Jazz, Gabriele Coen, Eileen Reynolds, Carl Jung, Benny Penazzi, Tzadik Records

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.