Quotes For Promotional Use

“‘Originations’ surely places Cohan in the first rank of contemporary jazz composers.” –The Chicago Tribune

“Cohan is a gifted, strong pianist and a master of three horn writing.” –Downbeat

“[Cohan] is a master of orchestral composition and arrangements.” –KCRW (Tom Schnabel)

“Ingenious and elegant… Cohan has gone beyond the narrow definitions of genrism—creating truly universal music that reflects cross-cultural, polyphonic peace and joy. ‘Originations’ is singularly unique in its depth and breadth and is a charismatic and absorbing disc.” –Chicago Jazz Magazine

“This gifted Chicagoan pianist-composer is definitely his own man.” –The London Evening Standard

“Ryan Cohan has emerged as one of the city’s most powerfully expressive musicians.” Neil Tesser,

“Imagination & virtuosity abound.” -Richard Scheinin, San Jose Mercury News

“[Ryan is] a wonderfully inventive pianist” –The Chicago Tribune

“Ryan is an extraordinary pianist” –Rochester City Newspaper

“Tautly controlled, yet deeply imaginative writing … ‘The River’ stands as a breakthrough moment for Cohan” –The Chicago Tribune

“Cohan’s reputation precedes him: nobody paying attention to the Chicago jazz scene over the last five years can question his expansive technique or the deeply soulful spirit that inhabits the skeins of notes and thundering chords. And now with ‘The River’, his prowess as a composer – evident if perhaps less visible on the four previous albums under his own name – should be equally clear.” –

“’The River’ is composer-arranger Ryan Cohan’s most ambitious and important work to date.” – JazzTimes

“Cohan’s acumen as a bandleader is tied to his mastery of composition…” – SomethingElse! Reviews

“On ‘The River’, Cohan accomplishes a jazz composer’s dream.” –NextBop

“Cohan’s arrangements bring out an orchestral depth in his sharp ensemble” – The Chicago Reader

“Ryan Cohan is a triple-threat musician, bandleader and songwriter.” –Rhapsody SoundBoard (Best Albums of 2010; Another Look)

“[Another Look is] a model for modern jazz piano albums” – ICON Magazine

“[Ryan is] a triple-threat artist who thrives as pianist, bandleader and composer” –The Chicago Tribune

“With his witty arrangements and blistering solo capabilities, Cohan is certainly on the edge of bigger things.” –TimeOut Chicago

RC interview with MakeMusic on Finale music notation software

Meet Composer/Pianist Ryan Cohan and Learn his Finale Tips

March 7, 2013 | by Scott Yoho






(photo: Jennifer Chin)

Ryan Cohan is a prolific composer, jazz pianist, educator and clinician (check out his impressive bio at Ryan’s recent projects include creating symphonic arrangements for Joe Locke’s Wish Upon A Star (released in January by Motéma Music) and production of Ryan’s fifth solo recording. Both projects relied heavily on Finale – as has all Ryan’s writing has for the past thirteen years.I spoke with Ryan about some of these projects and his work with Finale.

Scott Yoho: Tell me a little about your participation in Joe Locke’s Wish Upon A Star.

Ryan Cohan: The project had its origins with a concert Joe invited me to play with his quartet and Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra in 2008. The performance was very successful and a synergy developed between Joe’s group and LSO that eventually led to Wish Upon A Star. When the recording was being planned and additional arrangements were needed, I was working on my Guggenheim Fellowship focusing on orchestral writing, and the circumstances worked out for my being signed on to the project as an arranger along with UK composer/saxophonist Tim Garland.Preparing the music for this date required a careful approach. Joe is a virtuosic vibraphonist with a distinct improvisational voice, so an important objective of my arrangements was to create compelling orchestral parts integrated with the jazz quartet that allowed him a fertile, open canvas to interpret and navigate with as much freedom as possible.

SY: I understand your upcoming fifth solo album will feature an hour long suite for jazz septet. That sounds like a big undertaking. Can you tell me a little about the process and how Finale fit in?

RC: The suite and new CD, both entitled The River, were inspired by the musical and human experiences I encountered on an extended tour of Africa a few years ago. The piece was composed over seven months and scored for my septet comprising of two woodwinds (each doubling on tenor and soprano saxophones, flute, alto flute and bass clarinet), trumpet/flugelhorn, piano, acoustic bass, drums and percussion. The suite has eight movements connected by short, free improvisations by different members of the group that I imagine as a river linking eight scenes or vignettes depicting a single story.As I start to develop compositional ideas, I will write out a lead sheet in Finale so I can play the music with my group to hear what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes I’ll have a few versions of the tune sketched out to audition. As the composition takes shape, I will then create a score to orchestrate and arrange it in Finale. The River had some interesting notational considerations. Between the very detailed, composed sections there were these improvisation sections that, while free, needed some direction so the soloist could blow on a particular sound or theme and know how to setup the next section. These ‘sounds’ were often a cluster of notes rather than a part of a chord symbol, not necessarily in time or fitting in a time signature, and I had to figure out how to indicate them. Ultimately, Finale handled whatever I needed with ease. Once I started rehearsing the arrangement, having linked parts in Finale – keeping everything in sync – was invaluable as I edited the score.

SY: Can you tell me a little about your history with Finale? Where and when you began using (what version)? What do you like about it?

RC: I first started using Finale in 1996 – I think the version I had then was Finale 97. What attracted me to it was its depth and customizability; I am very meticulous on how I want my scores and small group parts to appear. Transitioning to a notation program in the beginning was not an easy task for me as I had already done a great deal of writing and copying by hand and was used to the organic nature of working that way. As I adapted my pencil and paper style to notating at a computer, Finale became an invaluable tool for me – especially as the program became much easier and more intuitive to use over the years with each update. Now I can create a melody lead sheet very quickly or add/edit parts in a score at a rate many times faster than I could do by hand. Finale remains the only program of its type that I use and an integral part of my compositional process.

SY: Have any Finale tips you can share? Perhaps something that made a big difference on one of the projects above?

RC: In general, I recommend learning and using metatools – Finale’s keyboard shortcuts. I have keystrokes setup for my regularly used expressions, articulations, formats, time signatures, clef changes, etc. and for the main tools I use so I can easily switch between them. Working this way is a more efficient way to navigate the program and keeps the focus on the music.I found a couple shortcuts by accident that I used often working on Wish Upon A Star – one was the ability to highlight measures or notes with the selection tool and instantly transpose them up or down an octave by hitting 9 (up) or 8 (down). Also, moving a note diatonically by a step can be done instantly with 7 (up) and 6 (down). These were very useful for quickly adjusting the tessitura an instrument was playing in or moving an instrument from the melody to a 2nd or 3rd part.I’m always using option-click within a tool – for barline changes, creating repeats, adding measures and more. There are a lot of fast editing options there with one simple mouse or trackpad stroke. Another recent discovery I made related to editing is the ability to change articulations and expression markings already on the score with a single keystroke. This is done simply by selecting the marking you want to edit on the score/part and then double-tapping the assigned keystroke of the new marking to which it should change (example: changing a staccato articulation to an accent or a forte dynamic marking to mezzo-piano, etc.). All these shortcuts make a real difference in getting my scores down fast and looking right – particularly in a piece like The River that integrates different jazz staff styles with traditional and non-traditional notation elements.

SY: What’s on the horizon?

RC: My new CD, The River, is scheduled for release on Motéma Music in July. In addition to the work supporting that recording, I am involved in a few other album projects in Chicago and New York that are coming out this spring. I am also developing a writing project that adapts some of the orchestral concepts I worked on recently to a smaller ensemble and looking to pursue more film scoring opportunities in the near future. More details will be available soon on my web site at

My thanks to Ryan for sharing his Finale experiences with us.

GlobalPost Article 7/30/13

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Ryan Cohan | July 30, 2013 06:23

Songs in the key of diplomacy

Chicago jazz pianist Ryan Cohan reflects on how musical tours of Africa and Middle East relate to US policy, and to something a lot more powerful.

Nations should let music do the talking. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

CHICAGO — When one thinks of jazz, diplomacy isn’t the first association to come to mind.

But among its vast contributions to the world this American-born music is a remarkably potent tool for cultivating understanding across cultures.

With my jazz quartet, I have taken multiple international tours sponsored by the US State Department. The mission of the tours was to reach out to areas of the world — often to places with strained relationships with the United States — and share American culture.

The goal: creating goodwill through music and specifically jazz.

At its best, a jazz ensemble exemplifies humility, open-mindedness, soul, vision, communication, a respect and knowledge of the music’s history, teamwork and the critical values of listening and empathy. The music is a dynamic conversation that the performers create together in the moment.

Music is a universal language. In many of the places we visited, music was a critical element in everyday life — inseparable from religious practices and daily rituals. It didn’t matter that we were playing American music. The elements of rhythm, melody and harmony and our passion for playing and listening were common to us all.

While most of our tour events started with my group performing and demonstrating aspects of our music, the most poignant moments happened when local musicians and artists came on stage and we all played together. Audiences would immediately pick up on how we were adapting to one another, and the tenor of the room would swiftly open.

(Jamming at Tuku Music School in Norton, Zimbabwe. Photo courtesy of Ryan Cohan.)

On some of our tour stops, such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo, this transformation was dramatic. Lubumbashi was a seemingly lawless region with a palpable tension constantly in the air.

Besides being totally unfamiliar with jazz, most locals had never seen an American in person. That unfamiliarity worked both ways. The latest impression we had of them came a month before our trip from a front-page photo on The New York Times depicting a Congolese man with a machete over his head.

From the start, our audiences were not sure what to make of us and vice-versa. Immediately after we began playing, though, that changed. The crowd took to our music and became very inquisitive about how we improvised and played together.

Local percussionists, instrumentalists and traditional Congolese dance groups then showed up to eagerly demonstrate their styles, and soon we were all playing together. For the next five days in the DRC, word of our visit spread, and we were met by enthusiastic students at our events — some traveling long distances to attend.


(Doudou N’diaye Rose group performs in Butare, Rwanda. Photo courtesy of Ryan Cohan.)

We had interactive discussions at schools about our music and how it related to American culture, as well as conversations on the evolution of their music and many facets of our two separate cultures. The DRC has some of the worst poverty in the world. Most people only eat one meal a day, if that.

In that environment, however, we were taught about generosity and grace. Folks we met would invite us into their homes to share their daily meal with us. Jazz was the catalyst for opening dialogues and broadening our appreciation and knowledge of one another.

In a tour of Jordan, we were pre-emptively advised that local audiences in Amman were typically reserved and that the last visiting group was met by a crowd member who stood up mid-performance to proclaim his objection to American politics. Right before a major concert, we met with several journalists who asked us provocative questions on US policy in the Middle East among others, to which we simply responded on how we were there to share our music and learn from their culture.

Once again, we were not sure how we would be received by our audience.

That night, the band played well-known jazz standards, and between selections, discussed the music and how we had been enjoying working with notable Jordanian musicians and conservatory students we met. The crowd grew very engaged, and by the end, gave us two standing ovations and prompted an encore — something our embassy hosts had not seen before.

(Pianist Ryan Cohan’s master class in Lubumbashi, DRC. Photo courtesy of Ryan Cohan.)

After the concert many audience members enthusiastically came up to us to share their stories about their ties to jazz, and to express their appreciation of our sincerity in sharing our music with them. They wanted to engage us after realizing our commonalities. They didn’t want to close themselves off to us because of our differences.

Jazz initiated all these connections.

Its core values are key for building any type of relationship, and the music has the ability to convey and translate intention and meaning at a human level better than any other language.

Plus, and maybe most importantly: no matter where you are on the planet, jazz swings, grooves and draws you in.

Ryan Cohan is a Chicago-based pianist/composer and Guggenheim Fellow. His newly released CD, “The River,” was inspired by his touring Africa and is available at and iTunes.

CD Reviews: The River

Music Life and Times

Ryan Cohan’s “The River” — a Journey of Transformation and Understanding

Review by Travis Rogers Jr.

In 2008, Ryan Cohan and his Jazz quartet toured East Africa. He found himself affected and influenced by the musical traditions and the rich culture. He wrote—and has now recorded—music based upon that profound experience. The album is “The River” and is centered on a musical motif (or “river”) which flows throughout the album.

The fascinating music is performed brilliantly by the musicians who appear on the album. With those flawless performances, Cohan’s compositions are nearly as profound as the music that influenced him in the first place.

It begins with “River (part 1) – Departure” which begins with Cohan’s solo piano. It is straight Jazz—unaffected and homegrown. There is a tabula rasa sense of Jazz beginnings before going to the roots where all things change. There is a hint of Gospel in the track and an openness to what may come. The cascading keys bring the listener to the first turn in the river. It is fine Jazz piano.

“Call and Response” plays off of that Gospel theme and uses the call and response dynamic to introduce the musicians as they echo the motif between each other.

Lorin Cohen on bass, Kobie Watkins on drums and Samuel Torres percussion cast a broad shadow of rhythm as the horns trade between each other. Very creative and imaginative.

“Arrival” reflects Cohan’s landing in Rwanda. According to Cohan, it reflects “the rhythm of the people in the street, activity, night life.” It is passionate and lively. Cohan’s virtuosity is on full exposure here and the rhythm section is remarkable. The horns punctuate the groove with melodic bursts and cool lines.

“River (part 2) – Dark Horizon” is the second bend in the river with an ominous introduction to a more sinister side of Africa’s recent history. It is brief and chaotic with the saxes creating the tension. It is a harbinger of the dark events to follow.

“Storm Rising” is introduced with a chilling piano motif that is picked up by the horns. The rhythm section is furious and textured with piano and horns recreating the clash of outside (colonial) interference and even between rival tribes. The slaughter of the Tutsis at the hands of the Hutus in Uganda, then Rwanda, the conflict in the Congo, even Robert Mugabe’s oppressive (some say monstrous) regime in Zimbabwe are all ingredients in the regional conflagration.

The trumpet of Tito Carrillo against the reeds of John Wojciechowski and Geog Bradfield are hammer and tongs in their display of the conflict. Yet even amidst such turmoil, the beauty remains in spite of the horror.

“River (part 3) – Aftermath” opens a sad recollection of the terrifying events that Africa has suffered. That remembering is picked up in the harrowing themes of “Aftermath” which follows.

The forlorn, muted trumpet and cold piano is like a walk among the ruins in “Aftermath.” Lorin Cohen’s andante bass is a sad stroll. The discordant piano is chilling, perhaps shocking. The horns, however, call out the determination and strength and beauty of a people who have suffered far too much for far too long. Carrillo’s trumpet turns the nightmare into a nocturne.

“Brother Fifi” is a young musician that Cohan befriended in Kigali. He had suffered loss and separation from his family and Cohan formed an inspiring bond with the talented and dedicated young man.

The track opens in joyous refrain. The complex meters and changes are a tribute to the skill and talent of Brother Fifi. Lorin Cohen’s bass is cool and diverse. Ryan Cohan and Lorin Cohen are dynamic and in complete sync with each other. Then Lorin pairs with Carrillo’s trumpet for imaginative cooperation.

Cohan is enthralling with both the piano and the pen on this (and every) track. I admire the structure and melody of this beautiful piece.

“River (part 4) – Beautiful Land” is a stunning Lorin Cohen bass solo. At only 1:46, it is a fully-stocked work of beautiful technique and vision. As in all of the different parts of “The River,” the same theme is reinterpreted and embellished and developed. Lorin Cohen is in his ascendancy as a bass player, composer and improviser. He has the goods.

“Domboshava” continues the bass lines with the addition of the horns. “Domboshava” is translated as “Red Rock” and is a national park in Harare, Zimbabwe. The piece is a Jazz tone poem with colorful imagery that coalesces from the individual artists into a brightly-hued watercolor of someplace beautiful.

“Kampala Moon” is a portrayal of the pale moon over the Ugandan city. It is thoughtful and nocturnal, at peace in a troubled land. Cohan’s piano with the soprano sax is lovely and thoughtful. There is an innocence to the sound that makes the reality of African life all the more heart-breaking.

“River (part 5) – Connection” is Samuel Torres’ and Kobie Watkins’ moment to take center stage. The short burst of rhythmic excitement is a great ride down the cataracts.

“Last Night at the Mannerburg” recalls the final night of Cohan’s African concert tour. The over-crowded venue was the scene pf over-charged music as band and audience exchanged the electricity between them.

The best moments of the track come with the rhythm section lighting it up with Cohan’s aggressive piano. Cohan builds thrill upon thrill as the horns add to the celebration of a night gone well.

“River (part 6) – Coming Home” is the final return of the theme that has wound its way through the entire album. This final installment of “The River” is concerning the return trip from Africa. In each and every return to the theme, something is added. A growing and development (as stated above) takes place. The African trip is showing its influence on the band and on Cohan, in particular.

In “Coming Home,” the pace is slower and more reflective. The motifs are earthy and rich. The piano no longer carries the theme alone, the whole group is in complete participation. It is reflective of a deeper understanding of life and the world. It is much more profound than when the journey began.

Ryan Cohan’s “The River” is a journey of wisdom and transformation. It is the Hero’s Quest. Both Cohan and we are changed by his African sojourn. The joy of life in the midst of political horror and economic oppression is a tribute to those who can find that joy. Cohan has served as a wonderful guide who has broadened the understanding of those who have ears to hear.

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Purchase “The River” at Amazon



monday, april 7, 2014
Ryan Cohan, The River
posted by grego applegate edwards

Pianist-composer Ryan Cohan did a tour of Africa a while back. The experience led him to compose a 14-movement suite that captured his feelings and impressions. The result is The River (MTM 123) a rather compelling jazz composition for his septet.

There are some understandable rooted strands of Randy Weston and Abdullah Ibrahim to be detected here in terms of forebears as well as a general African orientation in the rhythmic vitality, call-and-response motifs and such. But it is not just a kind of pastiche. There is more to it. It stands on its own.

The band has the rhythmic charge that’s needed. They play the written parts nicely and solo overtop with good sounds. Ryan’s piano playing is very much a force in all of this. He sounds motivated and motored with a positive charge that gets the drive in gear. And he puts in a great performance, I would say. In addition to Ryan there are two reeds, trumpet, acoustic bass, drums and percussion. I am not familiar with the other players but they do sound very good.

This is one of the better jazz-compositional suites I’ve heard in the impressions-of-Africa mode. It makes me want to hear more of Ryan Cohan and it also stands well on its own feet.

The River comes across as hip, sophisticated, burnished fire. I am impressed.


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Jazz picks: Ryan Cohan, Robert Glasper in concert this week

By Chris Barton
November 14, 2013, 12:28 p.m.

Ryan Cohan: Inspired by a trip to Africa, the Chicago-based pianist and bandleader released one of the more ambitious jazz records of the year in “The River.” Rising out of a lush, gospel-infused solo turn and meandering through a buoyant, album-length suite delivered by a nimble seven-piece band, Cohan explores the sounds of Rwanda and Zimbabwe as filtered through the Windy City’s fertile jazz scene.

Here Cohan performs with a quartet that includes drummer Joe La Barbera and saxophonist Bob Sheppard, but the explorations should remain every bit as inviting.



by Richard Kamins
published: October 12, 2013

 When one stops to think about it, it’s amazing how much good music has come from tours sponsored by the US Department of State (thinking specifically here about Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie whose journeys overseas prompted both both men to compose musical recollections.)

In 2008, the USDS, along with Jazz at Lincoln Center, sponsored a tour of East Africa by pianist/composer Ryan Cohan and his quartet(the second time Cohen took a group overseas). His musical impressions of the month-long tour to Rwanda and Zimbabwe are captured on “The River” (Motema Music), his 5th CD as a leader and, arguably, his best.  The music, played by an exceptional septet featuring John Wojciechowski (saxophones, flutes), Geof Bradfield (saxophones, bass clarinet), Tito Carrillo (trumpet, flugelhorn), Lorin Cohen (bass and cousin of the pianist), Kobie Watkins (drums) and Samuel Torres (percussion), is rich with rhythms of all sorts but stands out for the pianist’s excellent compositions.  6 of the 14 tracks are short improvised motifs gathered under the title of “River“; the remaining 8 tells “stories” of the cities the composer visited, the people he met, the natural wonders encountered along the way, the music he heard and played and the resilience of music in the face of political uncertainty.  The soloists are strong throughout, especially the pianist, while the rhythm section truly fires up the band.  One hears blues in the piano work on “Brother Fifi”, a piece dedicated to a fellow pianist who has lived through horrible tragedies and in the band’s interactions on “Call and Response“.  The rhythms/spirit of the music of Abdullah Ibrahim (the South African pianist/composer whose music has inspired many a composer) can be felt on “Last Night at The Mannenberg“, a piece also inspired by a mbira (thumb piano) choir Cohan had heard on that day.

The River” should be listened to all in one sitting; the music is so joyous and infectious, you might want to immediately play it again.Ryan Cohan, on this recording, has taken the sights, sounds, smell and interactions of the trip, and translated them into a musical experience that not only entertains us but is a positive reminder of the power of music.  For more information, go to


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Review: Ryan Cohan celebrates a jazz journey in ‘The River’
September 15, 2013 | Howard Reich

Five years ago, Chicago pianist-composer Ryan Cohan led his quartet on an African tour sponsored by the U.S. State Department and came back loaded with musical ideas.

He gathered them up for his suite “The River,” which he premiered with a septet in 2010 and has documented on a gripping new album by the same title.

Though “The River” sounds impressive on the recording, it proved still more striking in concert Saturday night at the Green Mill Jazz Club. Playing the work in its entirety, Cohan showed how far he and his colleagues have taken this music in three years. For “The River” emerged as a fully realized whole, its earlier structural weaknesses addressed in performance, its pictorial effects a major achievement for both composer and instrumentalists.

In effect, “The River” now stands as a breakthrough moment for Cohan, as the Green Mill performance affirmed.

The piece opened ingeniously, Cohan playing an attractive, rhythmically rolling motif suggesting, of course, the gentle flow of a river. Once that motif had been established, the journey began in earnest, Cohan and the septet painting pictures of stops along the way.

“Call & Response,” for instance, instantly placed the suite in Africa, John Wojciechowski’s bent notes on flute and Samuel Torres’ hands-on-skins percussion evoking decidedly non-Western musical syntax. “Arrival” teemed with surging rhythms and brilliant colors articulated by Wojciechowski’s soprano saxophone, Tito Carrillo’s fluegelhorn and Geof Bradfield’s bass clarinet.

The scoring here, and elsewhere in “The River,” pointed to a composer who has become expert at tone painting, the sensuous front-line work enriched by intricately layered rhythms from Cohan, bassist Lorin Cohen, drummer Kobie Watkins and percussionist Torres. Close your eyes, and you might have thought several more musicians were playing, thanks to the sonic breadth and textural depth of Cohan’s writing.

You almost didn’t need to know the title of “Storm Rising” to deduce the meaning of this movement, thanks to the tempestuousness of the music and the sonic heft of the septet playing at full tilt. But the storm here didn’t necessarily concern the weather, for the forthcoming movements showed that Cohan was dealing with different kinds of convulsions.

“Forsaken,” which stood as the dramatic centerpiece of the work, represented Cohan’s contemplation of the genocide that has plagued various spots on his African tour, including Rwanda. Here Cohan has written the most searing music of the suite, and of his career, the anguish of the subject expressed in the unflinching dissonance of Cohan’s piano solo, the quasi-orchestral shouts of the ensemble at large and the sometimes shattering, sometimes softly lamenting phrases of Carrillo’s trumpet.

But there was joy in this work, too, particularly in “Brother Fifi,” a rhythmically buoyant, harmonically straightforward, musically life-affirming ode to a young musician Cohan met on his travels. The plaintive lyricism of “Kampala Moon,” poetically delivered by Bradfield on soprano saxophone, and the nearly frenzied dance rhythms of “Last Night at the Mannenberg” added welcome dimension to Cohan’s suite.

And the final pages, which had seemed anti-climactic during the 2010 premiere, showed new weight and purpose this time around, Cohan recapping the opening theme but playing it more slowly and reflectively, as if much had been learned during the odyssey of “The River.”

Composing a suite that sustains interest and coheres thematically during the course of an hour-long composition stands as one of the most difficult tasks in jazz composition.

Cohan has met the challenge, “The River” suggesting that he should continue his explorations into large-form writing – not enough jazz musicians dare to, and fewer still succeed.




Post by: Neil Tesser

On his recently released album The River (Motéma) – the music from which will fill his sets at three CD- release shows this weekend (on both sides of town) – the Chicago pianist and composer Ryan Cohan has created an album-length suite of grand ambition and brilliant detail. Using the inspiration of his experiences performing in Africa, Cohan continues on a path first mapped on his 2006 album One Sky, mixing written themes with improvisations to capture specific colors, textures, and moods. And also something more: within that framework, Cohan also explores the extra-musical implications of the jazz esthetic – in terms of freedom and interdependence – as adroitly as you will ever hear in a small-group setting.

Don’t let that that high-blown description scare you off. At its heart, The River remains first and foremost a gorgeously sprawling collection of individually persuasive persuasive movements played with passionate insight by a top-drawer cast: trumpeter Tito Carrilo, reedists Geof Bradfield and John Wojciechowski, bassist Lorin Cohen, and percussionists Kobie Watkins and Samuel Torres – all of whom appear with him this weekend. If some of Cohan’s melodies resonate with aficionados, that’s because several of them trace their roots to the music of Randy Weston – the first jazz musician to accurately recapture the African experience in terms of jazz terms – and I can’t see anybody complaining about that.

The music on The River has been percolating since 2008. That year, Cohan took a quartet on a tour of Africa under the auspices of the Rhythm Road project administered by Jazz at Lincoln Center, which regularly sends American bands of various genres on what amount to goodwill tours to primarily Africa and Asia. (This particular Rhythm Road excursion has justified itself a couple times over: first came Bradfield’s own reaction to the trip, his own evocative and utterly successful album-length suite called African Flowers. That this single journey should inspire two such satisfying musical creations gives me renewed faith in our tax dollars at work.)

Originally scheduled for release in the summer of 2010, The River was postponed several times – twice by scheduling conflicts with the record label, then by Cohan’s studies of orchestral writing through a Guggenheim Fellowship, and then by his work as a member of New York vibraphonist Joe Locke’s quartet. During these delays, however, the essence of the work never changed. As Cohan explained to me back in 2010, “I wanted to explore the idea of a written theme with a lot of freedom in it, which can be woven between different sections of a long-term composition. I had the idea of a series of vignettes, depicting places, experiences, emotions, all tied together by a musical stream.” The recording of The River, which finally showed up in July of this year, contains eight distinct movements, bound together by six interludes (“River i,” “River ii,” and so on), each of which differs in melodic intent and instrumentation. Each is also wholly improvised from motifs that appear elsewhere in the work. “It’s about each player coming to the material individually, with very little direction,” Cohan added at the time.

At this point, Cohan’s reputation precedes him: nobody paying attention to the Chicago jazz scene over the last five years can question his expansive technique or the deeply soulful spirit that inhabits the skeins of notes and thundering chords. And now with The River, his prowess as a composer – evident if perhaps less visible on the four previous albums under his own name – should be equally clear. Heard either in small portions or in its 55-minute-plus entirety, The River flows with all the grandeur, from peaceful pools to rushing rapids, that its title promises.


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The sounds of Chicago resonate on new albums

Howard Reich
September 10, 2013

Ryan Cohan: “The River” (Motéma Music). When pianist Cohan performed the world premiere of his epic suite in 2010 in Lake Forest, the work sounded ambitious and substantial, an impression deepened by this remarkable recording. Inspired by a tour Cohan led to Rwanda, Congo, Uganda and Zimbabwe in 2008, “The River” unfolds as a series of tone poems, each evoking a different place, moment or character in Cohan’s journeys. Even if you didn’t know the storyline, however, this music would be riveting, from the gripping piano solo that opens it to the sprays of instrumental color he achieves in “Storm Rising” to the beautifully crafted main theme of “Forsaken.” Cohan’s tautly controlled yet deeply imaginative writing serves as the spine of this music-making, of course, but his septet brings it to life, with sensitive playing from reedists John Wojciechowski and Geof Bradfield, trumpeter Tito Carrillo, bassist Lorin Cohen, drummer Kobie Watkins and percussionist Samuel Torres. Five years was a long time from the original journey to recording, but it was worth the wait, for “The River” represents a new high point in Cohan’s career as composer – bandleader.


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Ryan Cohan
The River (Motéma)

By Thomas Conrad

The River is composer-arranger Ryan Cohan’s most ambitious and important work to date. It is a suite in 14 movements, inspired by a concert tour in Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe and the Congo.

Rhythmically charged tunes like “Call & Response” and “Arrival” convey the energy of teeming street markets. “Kampala Moon” is a sweet but edgy melody incised on the night air by Geof Bradfield’s piercing soprano saxophone.

There are darker pieces. “Storm Rising,” like all Cohan charts, is carefully constructed as a provocative setting for soloists. The concise, fierce eruptions by Bradfield and John Wojciechowski (tenor saxophones) and Tito Carrillo (trumpet) evoke the turmoil and violence of African political dictatorships. “Forsaken” comes from a visit to Rwanda’s genocide museum. It is a wrenching yet objective musical form. Cohan’s left-hand piano cycles hit like body blows. Carrillo breaks free of Cohan, takes out his mute and, on open trumpet, cries out hope for healing.




For Your Consideration: Ryan Cohan’s ‘The River’

Alex Marianyi
Contributing Writer

As humans, we sometimes want to pigeonhole people into one category or another. This is something I’ve spent time talking to Ryan Cohan about, and he always mentions the ebb and flow of being an active performer and composer. Both are always a part of him with some months being heavy on playing and others heavy on composing. While Cohan is certainly the composer behind The River, his facility on piano as both soloist and accompanist becomes immediately apparent.

Inspired by the same trip as reedist Geof Bradfield’s African Flowers, this release follows Cohan’s African journey in a much more symbolic way than literal or linear. More importantly, it’s not an album of African music played by jazz musicians; it’s an album of jazz music that is influenced by present-day African music. While “Domboshava” is the most obviously African-influenced track and “Brother Fifi” the least, this recording continues to find new ways of letting you hear that influence without beating you over the head with it. It’s a delicate balance that is skillfully handled.

The ensemble as a whole could make or break this album, and let me tell you, they definitely make it. They help Cohan walk the line between composer and performer, allowing his compositions and his playing to be magnified by their presence. Not only has Cohan played some of the most inspired solos I’ve ever seen in person, his contributions as soloist on these recordings are not to be forgotten. On “Arrival”, he’s clever and measured, and on “Kampala Moon”, he’s sympathetic and elastic. The many freely improvised sections on The River serve not as a testament to Cohan as a composer or player but to his skill as a bandleader, selecting the right musicians and trusting them with creating entire tracks on their own.

Bradfield and fellow saxophonist John Wojciechowski perform the first example of this on just the third track. When performing individually, Wojciechowski merely scrapes the surface of his intellectually agile musicianship, carefully picking each of his ideas from the depths of his imagination. Bradfield displays his thick, fibrous sound that is much more nimble than you’d expect. As someone who has listened to more Geof Bradfield solos than I can count, it was extremely enjoyable to hear him play some Lenny Pickett-style tenor saxophone lines on “Last Night At The Mannenberg”.

The front end of The River seems pretty saxophone heavy, easy to do when you have two of the best woodwind players on the Chicago scene. This choice is balanced out by having the back half of the album centered around Tito Carrillo’s trumpet playing. So often when listening to Tito Carrillo, whether live or on these recordings, he plays something I’ve always wanted to hear, before I even knew I wanted to hear it.

On “Brother Fifi” and “Last Night At The Mannenberg”, Cohan writes one of my favorite things to hear, a bass player with the melody. Despite it being an underused technique and difficult task, he does it masterfully with help from Lorin Cohen’s resonant sound. Kobie Watkins’ dynamic range on drums shines in this group; he booms with the full band and whispers along with soloists. Percussionist Samuel Torres does an excellent job of meshing with the rhythm section that made the initial trip to Africa.

While it seems popular forms of music are heading towards more segmented distribution of music such as mp3s and YouTube videos, many jazz musicians seem to be thinking of their releases as long-form works, where each song can stand alone but is still very much a part of the whole. On The River, Cohan accomplishes a jazz composer’s dream. He is able to give each musician, including himself, the necessary space to stretch out and give their input, but at the end of the album, the listener is left with the memory of the composition as a whole and the story that it tells.


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Ryan Cohan: The River (2013)

Published: July 19, 2013

Looking back, there must be hundreds or perhaps thousands of album titles that designate some reference to a river, regardless of their genre. But talented pianist Ryan Cohan does impart a distinctive stylization within the grand scope of this thoroughly modern jazz oeuvre, inspired by a recent U.S. State Department-sponsored tour of East Africa, and intersected with his Chicago roots. His septet seamlessly binds soul blues, African pop, and the jazz idiom, via concise, razor-sharp arrangements, often executed with the aplomb of a little big band. Cohan’s methodology offers intermittent detours, playful digressions, and frolicsome free-form burnouts.

Cohan is a strong composer, and the ensemble burns through high- impact bop tinted with Afro-Cuban pulses, yet dishes out a snaky jazz- blues romp layered with regal choruses, blending convention with newness on “Brother Fifi.” The pianist clearly runs point amid his profound rhythmic direction and captivating solo spots, where the respective musicians rise to the occasion throughout.

“Last Night at the Mannenberg” features a tempestuous soprano saxophone solo by Geof Bradfield, supported by Cohan’s Professor Longhair-shaded voicings, equating to a buoyant Latin-blues vamp. Here, the leader adds oomph with punctual block chords and soul-drenched single note lines, abetted by a rollicking and rolling finale. The album closes with “River, Pt. 6—Coming Home,” highlighted by an enticing yet unorthodox alignment of gospel and indigenous percussion treatments, perhaps signaling a bridge between Americana and its African influences. Like a musical tour guide, Cohan’s multi-tiered outlooks and scenic soundscapes yield quite a few bonuses during these inspired works that frequently transcend the norm.


Something Else!

Ryan Cohan – The River (2013)

by S. Victor Aaron

When we last visited Ryan Cohan three years ago, the Chicago-based pianist, composer and bandleader had just issued he third album. Having established himself as a fine composer of modern jazz, Another Look exploited the cohesion Cohan had developed with his working band from so many years on the road. The River is a project he views as seeing the pendulum moving back toward composition somewhat, but it can’t shake the touring experiences of he and his quartet, particularly the month-long excursion through East Africa in 2008.

That provided the impetus for the music Cohan wrote for The River, but it didn’t necessarily inspire the way you might think. Cohan didn’t make an “African jazz” record even though there are African shades in it (as jazz is derived from African music forms, it should be). Rather, this is music reflecting on how the journey impacted he and his band on an emotional level. Cohan considers the eleven pieces as a continuum of one motif to another, representing a narrative flow, just like a river.

For these recording sessions, Cohan expanded that quartet into septet: reedist Geof Bradfield, bassist Lorin Cohen and drummer Kobie Watkins are joined by saxophonist and flautist John Wojciechowski, trumpeter Tito Carrillo and percussionist Samuel Torres. Cohan’s acumen as a bandleader is tied to his mastery of composition, as he arranges his songs to leverage the talent at hand, and his arrangements are inseparable from the compositions themselves.

The continuity is so strong, the first three tracks feel as of one, sectioned piece. “River [i] Departure” is a simple ostinato with plenty of inspiring right hand, gospel-leaning action. That segues right into “Call & Response,” where Cohan rouses the rest of the band, one by one. “Arrival” signals the full arrival of the band, and Watkins and Torres do a stellar job of grafting African rhythms into Cohan’s very American harmony.

The bonds among the songs are further strengthened by the interspersing of different sections of the “River” suite, each showcasing different band members, until a return to the original “River” segment performed by the entire combo at the end, a curtain call technique that could easily work in a live concert.

In between are many wrinkles in Cohan’s complex songwriting and arrangement prowess. He calls to mind one of his heroes Don Grolnick with the way he’s able to make his little band sound voluminous on “Forsaken,” where Carrillo’s superb trumpet takes the spotlight, too. The trumpeter and Torres do a stellar job in molding an Afro-Cuban groove on “Storm Rising,” and the whole group expertly navigates through the abrupt shifts and tumultuous antics. “Brother Fifi” has that Corea styled cadence and harmonics, but it’s also more soulful than what’s typical of Corea. “Kampala Moon” is a sparkling gem: virtually a duet between soprano sax and piano (with Cohen assisting), it’s a beautifully melancholy melody that needs nothing else to accompany it.

Cohan has long attained a high artistic level with his last two releases, but that didn’t stop him from aiming higher for The River. He hit his mark square on.

CD Reviews: Another Look


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Ryan Cohan
Another Look (Motéma)

Ryan Cohan is a triple-threat musician, bandleader and songwriter. Another Look showcases Cohan’s ability with writing “jazz tunes,” jaunty rhythm numbers and lush ballads that deserve to be picked up by other musicians. As a musician, Cohan’s style is lean and funky, and often has real bop punch. As a bandleader, he uses his band as a collective, laying down chords whenever they are needed and letting vibraphone star Joe Locke and multi-reed player Geof Bradfield lead the way as much as they need to. There are a couple of choice standards here, and Cohan shows off a different side on the expansive “Song for My Grandfather,” which starts off slow and pretty and becomes witty and daring.


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The List: September 16-22, 2010

Critics’ Choice

One of the city’s most reliable mainstream jazz pianists, Ryan Cohan has built a discography that consists mostly of thoughtfully arranged suites—sprawling works that often call for large casts of collaborators and multiple lineup permutations. But after touring steadily with his quartet for the past few years, including several State Department-sponsored trips to Africa and Russia, he decided to capture what they do each night on the bandstand. The buoyant new Another Look (Motema) is a passel of sharp original compositions that shows off the strong rapport and crisp rhythmic interplay he’s developed with reedist Geof Bradfield, bassist Lorin Cohen, and drummer Kobie Watkins. Cohan couldn’t totally resist his love for collaboration, though, and augmented the band with New York vibist Joe Locke, who enhances the pianist’s keen use of harmony, and percussionist Steve Kroon, who does the same for his rhythms. The sextet crackles on the opening “Monk’n Around,” which cleverly interpolates a quote from Monk’s “Four in One,” and most of the pieces have a propulsive snap that’s complemented by the rich timbres produced by Bradfield’s silken tone and the ringing resonance of piano and vibes. “This or That” opens with a serene, tempo-shifting melody, providing the subsequent improvisations with potent source material. And Cohan’s treatment of the Ellington standard “Caravan” draws upon Afro-Cuban reference points and the bluesy Afrocentric swing of pianist Randy Weston; with Bradfield and Locke sitting out, Cohan deploys a battery of shape-shifting, rhythmically charged phrases, giving the familiar theme plenty of new life. —Peter Margasak


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Ryan Cohan Deserves “Another Look” (Motéma)
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor
Friday, 05 November 2010

Chicago native Ryan Cohan has already distinguished himself as pianist, composer and bandleader. His working quartet (the core of this recording) was chosen as one of only a handful of ensembles to tour internationally on behalf of the U.S. State Department through the Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rhythm Road program in 2008 and again in 2009. Cohan’s 2007 Motema release, One Sky, earned accolades as one of the year’s top recordings. Thus expectations were appropriately high for Another Look, the quartet’s debut collection of 9 original compositions and two covers, with special guests, vibes titan Joe Locke and percussion master Steve Kroon, joining Geof Bradfield on sax, Lorin Cohen on bass and Kobie Watkins on drums.

The opening “Monkin’ Around” heralds the compositional finery of the set as well as the elastic phrasing of Joe Locke. Cohan manages to blend strong swing with rhythmic twists, and my first encounter with Geof Bradfield is a delight. The title track shines the spotlight on Locke, shifting from assertive melody to balladic song to acrobatic improvisation, with increasingly strong and percussive Latin rhythms, courtesy of Cohan (at times suggesting Ahmad Jamal) and the rhythm section. Latin beats fuel Cohan’s spikey arrangement of “Caravan,” highlighting percussionist Kroon as well as the leader’s extensive rhythmic vocabulary and penchant for gear-stripping turns.

Two compositions are divided into two parts, two tracks each. Bradfield goes solo on the tenor intro to “Gentle Souls,” 90 seconds of incantation leading into the sextet’s track and Bradfield’s switch to soprano. Cohan weaves a golden braid with Locke before settling into an exquisite trio conversation that delicately recalls Evans and Jarrett. Just when the track seems to reach resolution, Bradfield builds a haunting bridge between piano and vibes. Another two-part composition, “Song for My Grandfather” opens with just Cohan combining majestic chords and arpeggionated flourishes before yielding to the core trio, the pianist’s slight hesitations in tandem with elegant phrasing again suggesting Jamal; bassist Cohen solos with similar finesse.

The boppishly swinging “Steppin’ Up” closes the set, its high-energy propulsion ignited by Cohen and drummer Kobie Watkins, and with Joe Locke, evokes strong memories of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Another Look confirms Ryan Cohan as a seriously creative force in the composing, arranging and bandleading arenas of modern jazz.


The Columbia Daily Tribune
Notes And Tones
Pianist Ryan Cohan’s new CD really deserves ‘Another Look’

By Jon Poses

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ryan Cohan’s most recent release, “Another Look” (Motema), arrived a little more than a month ago; it’s taken me a bit of time to catch up with it, but I knew I would. He’s a pianist that I’ve had some interest in — one of those pleasant surprises that make involvement in the jazz field a pleasure; you keep discovering people.

I’ve actually heard Cohan perform previously. It was a number of years ago at some kind of industry showcase, I believe. I remember that although he was relatively young at the time — in his late 20s or early 30s — I was impressed. He seemed to have a presence about him that superseded his years; he seemed to have a veteran’s approach — technically, improvisationally and compositionally. He wasn’t just playing the same-old, same-old to impress. Cohan will turn 40 in June.

Cohan has used Chicago as his base for years now. He’s a regular on the scene, a first-call pianist at this time who has slowly but surely built a following — and an awareness of his work. As it turns out, he is from a musical family; his mother was a music teacher as well as a classical pianist and guitarist. He studied violin at an early age, but by high school, he committed to the piano. A 1993 graduate of De-Paul University, he also had an opportunity, thanks to the Blue Note Records scholarship program, to study at the Skidmore Institute.

During the course of the next decade or so, aside from leading his own small groups and developing his own chops as a teacher and educator, Cohan shared the stage with Windy City colleagues such as vocalist Kurt Elling, trumpeter Orbert Davis and The Chicago Jazz Philharmonic. He also has gained a reputation as an arranger and as an original-thinking composer, so it was not entirely surprising that he landed a Guggenheim Fellowship, one of the truly coveted prizes for musicians.

“Another Look” showcases Cohan’s working quartet — Geof Bradfield on tenor and soprano saxophones along with bass clarinet, Lorin Cohen on acoustic bass and drummer Kobie Watkins. The recording is greatly augmented musically with the addition of a pair of guests.

Vibraphonist Joe Locke is really one of the best in the world, playing, seemingly, at the top of his game all the time. His sound is simply beautiful. Locke’s contributions here are tastefully sprinkled throughout “Another Look’s” 11 pieces — some housed in his solos, and others couched in ensemble work. Meanwhile, Steve Kroon, the veteran percussionist, also jumps in here and there on the session.

Still, it’s the core four’s work here that impresses. They have been playing together for seven years, and it shows in the varied but always tight arrangements. What Cohan has managed to do with this presentation is offer listeners a really solid taste of some hard-hitting, percussive melodies that are both engaging and accessible; he manages to mix in the likes of an impressive reading of Duke Ellington’s Latin-flavored “Caravan” as well, avoiding cliché — not easily accomplished. The pianist’s playing calls to mind some of the great bebop giants, such as Bud Powell or, obviously, Thelonious Monk, but he also has a decidedly modern flare, drawing from the likes of McCoy Tyner or, even, say, a John Hicks. However, “Another Look” provides listeners with a thorough sense of newness.

Cohan, in his notes, said he programmed the studio recording to resemble one of his live sets. I think that’s an accurate statement. After listening to “Another Look,” with its clarity, definition and varied pacing, it gives one the sense that when the final note of “Steppin’ Up” — a kind of fun swinging bluesy interplay between all the participants — has been struck, it’s just about the right time to get up and take a break.


Blog Critics
I Hear Sparks: Ryan Cohan – Another Look
Author: Jordan Richardson — Published: Nov 21, 2010

With Ryan Cohan’s brilliant piano flourishes and Joe Locke’s delicately soulful vibes, Another Look is one of those records that just feels smooth all over.

This is my first trip with Cohan and it’s a wonderful ride, I can tell you that. His command over the keys and sharp skill with the compositions makes for some engaging listening, but it’s the interplay with his quartet that really shines on this recording and sets it apart from the rest.

Another Look, out now on Motéma, is the follow-up to Cohan’s critically-acclaimed One Sky from 2007. The new record finds him engaging the band and drawing on those spontaneous musical moments that can only come when truly connected players blast away in a dark room or a smoky bar somewhere.

Ryan Cohan’s Quartet includes Geof Bradfield (tenor and soprano saxophones), Lorin Cohen (bass) and Kobie Watkins (drums). They’ve been playing together since 2003 and clearly learned some valuable lessons along the way. A couple of selections for the Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad program haven’t hurt either.

Special guests Locke and percussionist Steve Kroon help flesh out Another Look, but it’s the core quartet that gives the album its heartbeat. Cohan’s playing is exciting and fresh, gliding all over the place with organic lines and beautiful chording. The band fits snugly into the arrangements and there’s plenty of space to play with.

Cohan’s designs for the record aim to give the listener plenty to dig in to and he accomplishes it with flying colours, offering more than a few “looks” at some rather traditional patterns.

When he takes to Thelonious Monk with the angular twisting of the opening track, “Monk’n Around,” the band parts the waves to open things up. The Cohan composition is sleek and the number soars well beyond mimicry and into an intricately-designed tribute.

The soulful glide of “You & Me” accounts for what is probably my favourite piece. Locke’s vibes are clever and Kroon’s percussion adds some texture. Cohan’s lambent chording grounds things, while the gentle work of Bradfield glides overhead. Nobody presses too hard.

The stellar musicianship is given a personal touch with “Song for My Grandfather.” Cohan’s emotional melody is engaging and his eloquent playing clearly reflects the bond he shared with the song’s subject. It flows wonderfully into the bouncy and spunky “Steppin’ Up” to close out the album.

Another Look flows from deeply personal pieces to more expansive works with confidence. It is an open door to musical possibilities, offering a robust and consistent set of songs that is enjoyable no matter how many looks (or listens) you have to give.

CD Reviews: One Sky

Chicago Tribune BEST OF 2007: MUSIC: JAZZ
By Howard Reich
December 16, 2007

Ryan Cohan: “One Sky” (Motéma)

Until the recent release of “One Sky,” listeners knew Cohan as a fine pianist and adept composer-arranger. But “One Sky” establishes him as much more than that: a potentially distinctive voice in jazz. Certainly his exquisitely delicate writing in the recording’s centerpiece, the five-movement “One Sky: Tone Poems for Humanity,” shows the creativity of his pen, as well as the alacrity of his pianism. The translucence of his compositions for sextet, as well as the high polish of the playing he inspires, makes “One Sky” a significant achievement for a composer on the verge of greater things.


Jae Sinnett’s Top Ten of 2007 List
Ryan Cohan: “One Sky” (Motéma)
December 3, 2007

Writing, writing, writing…Very intelligent writing. In and in a strange way it makes me think about Ellington in how Duke played the piano like he arranged. There was this unique parallel. I hear this in Ryan’s playing. He plays like he writes. Quirky and soulful in spots and played and written with humor. The songs have a forward moving quality to them that keeps me looking forward to what is coming next. Void of predictability from beginning to end and texturally sophisticated… “One Sky” is certainly one of the top picks of the year.


TimeOut Chicago
Critics’ Pick

Ryan Cohan

“Chicago is an underappreciated haven for great bebop pianists,something to which Ryan Cohan’s new One Sky further gives credence. With his witty arrangements and blistering solo capabilities, Cohan is certainly on the edge of bigger things.”


One Sky (Motéma)
Ryan Cohan

review by Scott Yanow

Ryan Cohan is a talented pianist and arranger/composer whose music stretches the modern mainstream of jazz. While one can hear the influence of Herbie Hancock and, to a lesser extent, Chick Corea, Cohan mostly displays his own personality in his playing and especially in his writing. For this sextet date (the two percussionists are only on two pieces while James Cammack and Lorin Cohen split the bass chair), Cohan’s writing frequently makes the group sound larger than a three-horn ensemble. The versatility of Bob Sheppard and Geof Bradfield, who between them play seven instruments, is a major asset. Cohan contributes four modern pieces (all of which clock in between seven and eight minutes), takes “Lush Life” as a piano solo, and displays some of his most colorful writing on the last five selections, which together form “One Sky: Tone Poems for Humanity.” Excellent music, well worth several listens.