RT 9334 (2008)

Steve Cohn

iro iro


Steve Cohn: piano, shakuhachi, hichiriki,
                     shofar, ektara, percussion
Masahiko Kono: trombone
Tomas Ulrich: cello
Kevin Norton: drums, vibes, percussion

1. Ohio 14:46
2. Konnichiwa 15:33
3. Kombawa 15:08
4. Oyasuminasai 9:37

Recorded January 31, 1999,
at the Knitting Factory NYC

Musical conception by Steve Cohn


The Iro Iro band was formed during a period when I wished to bring some new ensembles together and used the Knitting Factory in New York to do it. I was currently still working with my chamber unit formed for the 1993 Miller Theater concert with Bass, french horn, violin and piano, shakuhachi, etc. I think my work with Thurman Barker was still in my mind. I’ve always loved the sound of vibes or marimba together with piano. But I was searching for new members. I became aware of Kevin Norton and checked him out at one of his gigs. I always reflect on the vibration of the person not just their music. Kevin had a nice spiritual side and I felt he would lend himself well to the shakuhachi and other ethnic and percussion instruments I use and also he played the orchestral percussion, drums and vibes like Thurman Barker.

The cello was exploring without bass and Kono had a Japanese simplicity to his playing and beautiful tone. His electronics were another avenue. Tomas had a good relationship with Kevin as they had also played many times together. Truly this ensemble in my opinion became magical almost immediately. The hichiriki and cello, the shakuhachi and trombone vibes cello. The playful exploring and the power of the blues and jazz feel.

Now add Jon Rosenberg, wonderful at live recording and two concerts of this music was beautifully captured. The Iro Iro band is an extension of my chamber quartet with very different colors and a whole new slew of personalities. I am very happy that Michel Passaretti showed such distinct interest in these recordings.

One more note about the name of this ensemble. Iro Iro is a Japanese word which means this and that or a variety of things, and the word Iro is the word for color.

Steve Cohn


visit Steve Cohn website


Iro Iro: A Japanese expression that approximately means "this and that" distinguishes an album whose contents were recorded in 1999 at New York's Knitting Factory. The nominal leader is featured on "piano, shakuhachi, hichiriki, shofar, ektara percussion" and he's finely complemented by Masahiko Kono on trombone, Tomas Ulrich on cello and Kevin Norton on drums, vibes and percussion. Narrates Cohn that he looked to bring together innovative improvising ensembles while still leading his chamber unit, previous works with Thurman Barker in mind. Three sympathetic comrades were found and hired, and we can't but appreciate the outcome - even almost a decade later. The quartet does possess a penchant for individuating spots where the intercommunication is so highly evolved that contemporary classical music instantly zaps the imagination. I'm especially thinking of the spellbinding central section of "Kombawa", where Ulrich's poetic poignancy becomes a much desired spouse to Cohn's flutes, while Kono peeks and gets away with an instrument certainly not known for levity; yet, in his hands, the trombone is less talkative and more imaginative, unerringly fishing the few notes necessary for the completion of those instantaneous concepts. Norton, who was chosen also in virtue of a "spiritual side", as per the leader's words, demonstrates yet again an utter command of the percussive culture and, what's better, that he knows exactly when the time is right to disappear, only to be back with a vengeance after minutes. The piano figurations remain firmly anchored to a classy refinement certainly not jeopardized by the bolder playing, leading the music towards a lack of restrictions that is all the more appreciable, if disciplined by four or five well-placed rules. Which ones, of course, we will never know.

Massimo Ricci - Touching Extremes


Mezei's still a fairly young artist; if he wants to find out about being unjustly marginalized for the long haul he could contact the pianist Steve Cohn (he really could: both artists have nice websites), who's been tirelessly pursuing his muse since the early 80s to the sound of unfortunately few hands clapping. This quartet, with Masahiko Kono on trombone and electronics, cellist Tomas Ulrich and drummer/vibraphonist Kevin Norton, made frequent stops at the Knitting Factory back when the place still featured this type of music, and this live performance was recorded there back in January 1999. The title is Japanese, meaning "this and that" or "a variety of things"; "iro" on its own means "color", and there's plenty of color here, given Norton's ability to switch seamlessly from his trap set to vibes and back, not to mention Cohn's use of the shakuhachi, shofar and ektara. On the first three compositions (or "conceptions"), Cohn begins on one of his wind instruments, or inside the piano, producing some interesting interactions, particularly on "Kombawa" when Ulrich inventively echoes the shakuhachi and Kono's burbles. But the group takes flight most convincingly when Cohn turns to the piano, as he does towards the end of those three tracks or on the entirety of the last cut, "Oyasuminasai". Norton's cymbal work throughout, particularly on "Konnichiwa", is exemplary in its rhythmic propulsion. Although it's unfortunate that we don't have a more recent example of this still working group, Iro Iro serves as a compelling document of what an evening at the Knitting Factory used to be like. And Steve Cohn's website has an interesting list of unreleased performances that he could possibly copy to CD-R if you ask nicely.–SG

Stephen Griffith - Paris Transatlantic Magazine


Steve Cohn has come a long way as a musician from the early days when he first learned to play the piano and played the blues in a club. He spent two years in Japan, which tells how he came by Japanese instruments like the shakuhachi, the Japanese bamboo flute, and the hichiriki which is a double reed. Cohn also plays the ektara, a single stringed instrument used in India (the word literally means one string).

Cohn's interest in international instruments has led to the creation of a fascinating amalgam. He uses the tonality to work up their distinct sound, and then melds them with the voices of traditional western instruments. In this he has had the input of some exceptional improvisers including Reggie Workman, Karl Berger, Jason Hwang and William Parker among others. The line-up of his groups is never static. The underlying factors of an innate understanding between the members, and the ability to take an uncharted course and make it meaningful remain with the band on this recording.

Cohn stirs up dense passages and then pulls back, letting the calm waft across. He balances thrust and tangent to give the music a nice edge and leave an open vent for his skillful band to surprise the listener. They waste no time doing so.

"Ohio" wraps several ideas into one neat package. Masahiko Kono blasts fat notes from the trombone, Cohn brings in the reeds and the ektara, Kevin Norton splashes rounds of color on the cymbals and Tomas Ulrich bows a rich line on the cello. But this is just the beginning. Cohn develops the grain of an Oriental melody while Koto shards the line, but Ulrich continues to be the peg, playing deep and resonant. The music is in a state of constant flux with a playful mid-section, some strong harmonies and a discernible melody on the piano from Cohn. The elements are disparate but the whole is cohesive.

While tension and turmoil are key signposts, "Oyasuminasai" brings in some tranquil pools. Cohn's initial melodic line on the piano is merely a quick nod before it turns spatial. Ulrich and Cohn have a conversation going that tacks melody to atonality. The evolution is constant, the sustained attack of the trombone meshing with the rhythmic impulses of the drums and the piano flitting into open territory while the bass pegs it all down.

Cohn and his band find some intriguing nooks and crannies on this atmospheric outing.

Jerry D'Souza All About Jazz


Pianist Steve Cohn and his cohorts here avoid every cliché in the book in pursuit of music which even at the end of the program seems as elusive as it was at the beginning. This is no bad thing as it arguably sums up in essence the very nature of improvised music that seeks to avoid the obvious.

Such an assertion might smack of hyperbole, but the fact is that the music by turns documents the coming together of four individuals whilst by others it discloses a group aesthetic with an eye for the ages as well as the moment. So that when Masahiko Kono exploits the burlesque qualities of his trombone on "Konnichiwa," it has the effect of putting the music in a worldly setting which is often simply not present here.

Despite, or perhaps because of this, the rest of the group seems to coalesce around his lines and the music assumes a momentum it often lacks.

That's thanks in no small part to the fact that this is a group of risk takers. In his solo intro to "Oyasuminasai," Cohn hints at ditzy little melodies but does no more than tease with such possibilities. Kevin Norton the colorist is soon with him and there is a dialog of gesture as much as assertion. Cohn hints also at Cecil Taylor's habitually extraordinary use of fractured lines, but again the needs of the moment prevail in terms of the light and shade the music evokes.

Cellist Tomas Ulrich might not have been serving the role of surrogate bassist but here his articulation and speed of execution has that effect even whilst the music's a matter of simultaneous lines coalescing only to spring apart, as if it's the product of some transitory but collective euphoria.

The quite arid nature of the soundscaping here ensures that when Norton switches to vibes for "Kombawa" it has the effect of an abrupt sea change. Here the overall coloring is of a bright hue, with Kono pursuing a course of understatement even in the face of his colleagues' activity.

Nic Jones All About Jazz



Au début de l’année 1999, le pianiste Steve Cohn (jouant aussi ici du shakuhachi ou des percussions) enregistrait quatre titres en compagnie du tromboniste Masahiko Kono, du violoncelliste Tomas Ulrich et du batteur Kevin Norton : Iro Iro, que traduirait « ceci cela ».

Intéressé par une creative music de chambre, Cohn peint ici quatre grandes impressions accaparantes, qui accrochent leurs atmosphères différentes – quoique lentes, toutes – aux coins d’une proposition singulière ayant à voir autant avec une musique contemporaine défaite qu’avec une improvisation languide et torturée.

Sous les coups de Norton (sur batterie ou vibraphone) et l’archet d’Ulrich, Iro Iro agite alors le fantasme d’une musique qu’aurait pu servir Chico Hamilton s’il avait davantage donné dans l’expérimentation, et démontre l’œuvre singulière de Steve Cohn en petit comité.

Le Son du Grisli


Iro Iro means "this and that" in Japanese. Iro means color. On this CD multi-instrumentalist Steve Cohn brings the concept of his chamber ensemble a step further. He plays the piano, shakuhachi, hichiriki, shofar, ektara and percussion, and the band further consists of Masahiko Kono on trombone, Tomas Ulrich on cello and Kevin Norton on drums, vibes and percussion. Usually the concept of chamber jazz is limited to bands without drummer, but Kevin Norton's approach is so light and perfectly fitting the musical concept, that it could still fall within the genre. The music is avant-garde, but varied, with meditative moments, with lots of openness, as on the second track, or extremely hectic and intense moments of interplay, as the beginning of the third track. The fourth track starts with Cohn's subtle and melodyless piano-playing and you have to give it to him : his touch is fresh, unusual, and sensitive, which sets the tone for the rest of the piece. The cello joins in the same vein, with subtle pizzi lines, supported by gently accentuations of the drums. Masahiko Kono truly is a good choice on the trombone, because of his precision and capacity of slow developments, creating sounds and being present without being overwhelming. Nuance and sophistication seem to be the guiding principles of the improvisations and of the interplay. Adventurous though this music may be, it is still sufficiently accessible, with strong emotional moments, and hence, as is too often the case with avant-garde, not only concerned with form. Recommended.

Free Jazz


This CD features an ensemble set up by Steve Cohn with a view to making the ensemble a bit chamber music-like - this is what's behind the term "musical conception" stated on the inlaycard. Everything is freely improvised, I have been told in a conversation with Steve Cohn. This was an interesting surprise to me, as I formerly believed something had been aranged - in some cases building up sections around an initial solo (fourth piece), in other cases fixing the material (scratching and static sounds in the third piece), in still another case a gradual widening out of tempo layers (first piece). But as this is not the case, we have such clear contrasts and developments coming directly out of the improvised process. Players are used to step back and allow for solo things happening, says Steve Cohn. And, one might add, also to free, very polyphonic playing while still communicating well. Cohn describes an attitude behind like this: "Improvisors have the ability of basing their choice on what has already happened - like in your life, you don't want to repeat it in order to feel fresh, unless it has a developmental role". Wise words... Congratulations to this meeting of structure and fresh, intuitive playing from each and everyone!

Carl Bergstrøm-Nielsen
Intuitive Music Cd Reviews


Steve Cohn’’s history in improvised music spans cultures and forms but seems to have its conceptual base rooted in a strong sense of space and an awareness of the importance of personality in his collaborators. The ensemble includes Cohn on piano, shakuhachi, percussion and various winds, Masahiko Kono on trombone, Tomas Ulrich on cello and Kevin Norton on drums, vibes and percussion. The music on this CD bears out his intuition in those matters in a clear and precise way. Each piece is played with an attention to composition that is quite masterful even to those who have heard their share of improvised music. Harmonic/melodic sophistication, astute phrasing and the willingness to reference groove once in a while combine to relate cogent and developed thematic material that wastes neither time nor space in its execution. A more thorough exploration in the ebb and flow of restraint and intensity would be hard to find.

Nilan Perera
Destination Out