Longtime bandmates in the expansive Third World Love quartet, Israeli-born duo trumpeter Avishai Cohen and pianist Yonathan Avishai display their vibrantly empathetic interplay on their 2019 ECM album Playing the Room. In many ways, the album is a continuation of the work the pair did on Cohen's 2016's ECM debut, Into the Silence, and 2017 follow-up Cross My Palm with Silver. As with those works, Playing the Room is an intensely lyrical album that finds the duo in thoughtful harmonic conversation. There's a symbiotic, teeter-totter-esque balance to Cohen's and Avishai's playing that goes far beyond their first name/last name connection. They clearly listen to each other, and play off each other's lines with a warm, almost intuitive empathy. They start things off slowly with Cohen's aptly titled "The Opening," a yearning ballad that evokes the classic standard "My One and Only Love." Similarly engaging, Avishai's rhapsodic "Two Lines" moves from focused, classical introspection to a buoyant mid-section in which Cohen dances with glassy elan over Avishai's ringing chords. There are also several deftly rendered covers here, including a heartfelt reading of John Coltrane's "Crescent," an urbane, Harmon-muted version of Duke Ellington's "Azalea," and a spritely take of Ornette Coleman's "Dee Dee." Also surprisingly affecting is the duo's delicately ornate reworking of Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke." No less affecting is their burnished rendition of the Israeli lullaby "Shir Eres." While Playing the Room fits nicely into the atmospheric and gentle ECM aesthetic, it's never cold or too spare. These are colorful, organic performances that move between ruminative balladry and moments of bright, swinging exuberance.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar