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Joe Cohn - Two Funky People


Joe Cohn - Guitar, Doug Raney - Guitar, Dennis Irwin - Bass, Barry Ries - Drums

1. Solar (4:52)  Miles Davis
2. But Not For Me (7:09)  George Gershwin
3. Quite Sip (4:25)  Thad Jones
4. Two Funky People (4:24)  Al Cohn
5. Mr. George (5:19)  Al Cohn
6. Serenata (4:54) Leroy Anderson & Mitchell Parish
7. Ask Me Now (5:56)  Thelonious Monk
8. High On You (4:49)  Al Cohn
9. Days Of Wine And Roses (6:10)  Henry Mancini
10. Motion (4:19)  Jimmy Raney
11. You And Me (4:19)  Al Cohn
Total Time 58:12

Listen to CD Tracks

         I enjoy a challenge. And writing these liner notes for Two Funky People, Joe Cohn’s debut recording as a leader, proved to be quite an interesting and enjoyable challenge. This project was more than a little unusual for me. I had recently completed a profile of Chris Flory, another of Double-Time Records exceptionally fine jazz guitarists. And when Double-Time chief Jamey D. Aebersold contacted me about writing something for Joe’s project two things were abundantly clear: I didn’t know much about Joe and because of a tight schedule (mine and Jamey’s), there wouldn’t be much time to gather a lot of facts. I contacted Joe and we hit it off right away. However, our first conversation wasn’t about guitar playing or even much about music. It involved another passion that he and I both share: running. In addition to being a fine jazz guitarist and upright bassist, Joe is an avid runner. And the first time we talked was a night where both of us had just finished a particularly invigorating run.

    One of the things that immediately struck me about Joe’s playing on this CD was his polished and mature style. Especially considering this was his debut as a leader. But Joe brings significant experience and history to this date. Joe’s late father, Al Cohn, was one of the great tenor sax players and arrangers in jazz history. Al’s bop-flavored style (he was greatly influenced by Lester Young) was heard in several bands and on many recordings in the 1940’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. He played with band leader/clarinetist Artie Shaw and Mose Allison. He appeared on the albums Natural Rhythm with rhythm guitar great Freddie Green and Drum Suite with Manny Albam. And he recorded several exceptional LP’s with fellow tenor sax great Zoot Sims. And while Al wasn’t a strong early musical influence on Joe (that would come later), once it became evident that Joe had real talent, he pushed Joe to excel as a musician.

    Joe began playing guitar during his senior year in high school. And initially Al thought that this might be too late to have a successful career as a working musician. Nevertheless, he encouraged his son to get some formal training and one of Joe’s earliest guitar teachers was New York great Alan Hanlon. Joe wasn’t originally into jazz but after hearing music by pianist extraordinaire Dave McKenna and the great Thad Jones-Mel Lewis big band, he was hooked. Joe enrolled at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston and as he put it, “became totally obsessed with the guitar.” The environment was perfect for Joe and he spent 3 years at Berklee advancing his guitar skills via listening, sight reading, transcribing and countless hours of practice. While at Berklee Joe’s musical influences grew to include Bill Evans, Freddie Hubbard and his father. His early jazz guitar influences include some legendary players: Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Tal Farlow and Jimmy Raney.

    After his Berklee experience Joe began making a living as a working musician - something he’s done now for over 20 years. He free-lanced on upright bass in and around the Boston area. He’s also spent significant time on guitar as a sideman backing great artists like Buddy DeFranco, Artie Shaw and Al Grey. Joe spent six years and played all across the country with Artie’s band and has been with trombonist Al Grey (a veteran of the Count Basie Orchestra and Frank Sinatra’s band) for about 10 years.

    As if Joe’s experience/provenance isn’t impressive enough, the second guitarist on Two Funky People is none other than Doug Raney. Doug is a terrific player who also happens to be the son of a legendary jazz musician: the late Jimmy Raney. Louisville, Kentucky born Jimmy Raney was a superb guitarist who came to prominence in the 1950’s. He spent time in the late 40’s with Woody Herman (tenor sax legend Stan Getz was also in the band at the same time) and in the early 50’s with Stan Getz’s quintet, recording some of the most interesting/compelling music of the cool jazz era. Jimmy then joined vibist Red Norvo’s Trio (with bassist Red Mitchell) in 1953. Jimmy’s exuberant, swinging and melodic single note playing style (he emulated the style/sound of the tenor saxophone) was absolutely brilliant and highly influential on other guitarists of the 1950’s, in particular, Jimmy Gourlay. And in 1954 and 1955 Jimmy won the Down Beat magazine critics poll as the “World’s Best Guitarist”.

    Two Funky People (the title refers to the fact that there are two guitarists on this date and is also a direct reference to their famous fathers) is funky in a refreshingly relaxed way. Unquestionably there’s strong energy and drive in both Joe’s and Doug’s playing but nothing is overdone or frantic. I especially enjoy the teamwork and interplay in this quartet - both between Joe and Doug as well as the rock solid rhythm section of Dennis Irwin (bass) and Barry Ries (drums).

    Miles Davis’ classic “Solar” opens this date and there’s plenty of close harmony guitar work on this moderate tempo number. “But Not For Me” (Gershwin, of course) gets a tasty treatment. And interplay, teamwork and nice individual moments are all present on this one. Doug takes the head while Joe comps along nicely. Doug solos first and it’s nicely melodic with a very fine/full tone. After a nice segment that features some close harmony guitar work, Joe picks up the solo pace with a solid effort full of nice single notes and an especially spirited octave/chord work passage. “Quiet Sip” features Joe, Dennis and Barry as a trio and the sparse lineup allows a lot of “sonic space” for each instrument. Joe's warm sound is courtesy of his 1960’s Gibson L-5 and Fender Vibrolux amplifier. From the chord melody-based main line to his driving solo Joe turns in a strong effort on this one. “Two Funky People” (an Al Cohn chart) is a real tempo change. The head is played in close harmony and a big sounding bass solo is sandwiched between some tasty/bluesy solo work from Doug and Joe.

    “Mr. George” (another fine Al Cohn tune) is a nice toe tapper. Joe solos first and his melody and energy really carry this one along. A perfect hand-off to Doug continues the energetic drive. “Serenata” has a Wes Montgomery style octave based lead line (expertly handled by Joe) with a subtle syncopated backing. Joe's solo bubbles along while Doug comps. Thelonious Monk’s “Ask Me Now” is a nice contrast to the bubbly “Serenata”. The initial feeling is melodic and perfectly relaxed on this beautiful number. Joe picks up the energy and really shines on his extended solo which blends fleet fingered single note segments with occasional octave work. “High On You” is full of great energy and drive from everyone involved. And the melodic content of the solos is very high. Fine effort guys! The Spotlight is on Doug for “Days Of Wine And Roses”, which gets a melodic ballad treatment. The head is played with a blend of single notes and chord melody passages while the solo features intricately woven single note lines. “Motion” (a catchy, appropriately titled Jimmy Raney original) is a solid mover and from start to finish is the most consistently uptempo/animated number on this project. Doug solos first and he pulls the band right along with him over the flowing changes. Close harmony guitar work leads off “You And Me”, which is based on the “Tea For Two” changes. Doug and Joe both deliver solos that sit nicely on top of a swinging rhythmic backing.

    Today’s mainstream jazz guitar scene is overflowing with a bumper crop of talented young players. And Joe definitely has all of the necessary skills to be a significant voice in this scene. With a number of other interests occupying his time, including encouraging/supporting the 3rd generation of musically talented Cohn family members (Joe’s 15 year old daughter is becoming an accomplished classical pianist) I hope he doesn’t wait too long to front his own band and record again.

 Jim Hilmar - Vintage Guitar Magazine
 Seattle, Washington October 1997