During a mesmerizing stretch of Avishai Cohen’s first set at the Jazz Standard on Wednesday night, his band fell quiet and he pointed the bell of his trumpet into the belly of the club’s piano. As he played a slow cadenza in a controlled high register, each note arriving as a clarion event, the sympathetic vibrations of the piano soundboard produced a shimmer of ghostly overtones, and a sort of pressurized hush.
Mr. Cohen had just finished knocking about the title track of his superb new album, “Into the Silence,” with a disciplined quartet: Jason Lindner on piano, Tal Mashiach on bass and Justin Brown on drums. Their version of the tune felt expansive and turbocharged, flirting with formal abandon. So Mr. Cohen’s terse trumpet interlude, with its shadowy pull, could have been a way of reeling back the energies in the room.
“Into the Silence” is Mr. Cohen’s first album as a leader for ECM, its title suggesting a wink and a nod to the label’s house aesthetic of somber reverie. In fact, Mr. Cohen created this music in memory of his father, who died in 2014; the album opens and closes with a chiaroscuro ballad bearing a plain-spoken title, “Life and Death.”
The mournful, brooding character of the album also bears some relationship to Mr. Cohen’s recent interest in the solo piano works of Rachmaninoff. Among the other comparisons it invites, in terms of color or mood, are Miles Davis’s smoldering soundtrack to “Ascenseur pour l’échafaud,” the 1958 Louis Malle film; John Coltrane’s deep-focus album “Crescent,” from 1964; and some of the recent ECM recordings by the Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko. But none of these evocations, which seem unintentional, ever wrest the focus from Mr. Cohen or his band.
On the album, that band includes a tenor saxophonist, Bill McHenry, who imparts some front-line ballast and an element of counterpoint. Mr. Cohen’s current tour, which kicked off with this two-night stand, features different personnel, but at no cost to the quality of the music. Mr. Lindner in particular proved a marvelous partner, especially on a piece called “Dream Like a Child,” built around a seven-note descending motif that he made into a tremulous fever dream.
“Quiescence” was similarly haunting, with a pendular two-note bass line over which Mr. Cohen and Mr. Lindner traced pirouettes in triplet meter. Elsewhere there were moments of surging epiphany and explosive contrast, along with quicksilver traces of Mr. Cohen’s Israeli heritage — most obviously in his choice of scales during several trumpet improvisations, though not the one that seemed to slow time to a dramatic crawl on the stage.
There are two Israeli Avishai Cohens on the jazz circuit – the famous bass-playing composer, and the younger New York-based trumpeter who leads this fascinating session, and who is likewise an instrumental master and a composer of vivid originality. Into the Silence is a set of reflections on the death of Cohen’s father – often solemn but never dirgey, and beautifully recorded. The pieces join classically pure trumpet soliloquies, grainier trumpet-sax exchanges that recall Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter’s 60s dialogues, a mercurial rhythm section (Eric Revis and Nasheet Waits), and piano playing of shapely minimalism from Yonathan Avishai. Cohen’s muted trumpet wreathes over Waits’s quiet brushwork and rises with Bill McHenry’s tenor sax over arrhythmic rimshots; New York adrenalin segues into resolute melancholy, and piano ostinatos bring to mind early Abdullah Ibrahim hooks. The breadth of jazz references will make this irresistible for fans, but it’s beautiful contemporary music for just about anyone.