Ear-Tickler: “Eleven Wives”

For this entry, I wanted to talk about Avishai Cohen and his tune “Eleven Wives” from his 2008 album Gently Disturbed (which also features Mark Guiliana on drums and Shai Maestro on piano).

First of all, I really enjoy Avishai Cohen’s music. He’s a fantastic composer, an equally talented bass player (both on upright and electric) and has led some pretty heavy bands, including (especially?) the trio from this time. In some ways, Avishai was one of the artists who helped me get into jazz by showing one of the different things that jazz could be. The album prior to this one, Continuo, is one of my favourite contemporary jazz records, and I’ve posted a transcription of the title track here.

One of the standouts of Avishai’s sound, along with his unique blend of jazz and a sort of middle eastern melodic sense, is the use of “odd” meter and interesting rhythms, and “Eleven Wives” certainly demonstrates the rhythmic side.

For starters, it’s in 11/8 (divided 3/3/3/2), opening with a piano figure stating the groove:

ElevenWives1To make this even more interesting, the faster tempo (dotted quarter at around 140) creates the illusion of the figure actually being in 7/8 (2,2,2,1) with a slightly stilted last eighth. It’s not until the drums enter that the 11 is made explicit (although the title makes this a dead giveaway).

The harmony is pretty straight ahead but the rhythmic nature of the “A” melody is one of the cooler things about the piece and makes it stand out:


Rhythmically, it’s entirely independent of the groove and the accenting of the BCBCA figure does not match the accents of the accompaniment, implying a brief 4-feel. This idea is taken further in the B melody:


Although Mark keeps the same 3/3/3/2 rhythm going in the drums, I’ve outlined the way that the B melody (piano/bass) is divided into 2-beat patterns, crossing both the pulse and the barlines as if it were really one long bar of 11/2. Also note the key change and active nature of the melody to contrast the A section, which really makes it pop.

Also worth noting here that the piece is through-composed with no soloist, instead building in intensity over the duration of the tune and acting as a vehicle for Mark Guiliana to really take it to the next level by the end. If you’re reading this and aren’t familiar with the song, check out this live performance on Youtube, and check out the album!