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Anat Cohen: Time To Blossom

By Published: June 18, 2007

"The songs in Poetica, yeah, there are four Israeli songs on the record. So I would say it's influenced by the music of Israel, but mostly from the music that I grew up with. Even the Jacques Brel song ["La Chanson des Vieux Amants ] is a song I listened to growing up. They're definitely songs from the more traditional Jewish, from "Nigunim to more modern things like the first song on the record ["Agada Yapanit (A Japanese Tale)].

"I'm very pleased with the results. And very pleased with the musicians on both of these. On Poetica, Omer Avital was a big part of the process of making the album. I suggested the songs. We figured out some of them together. Because the clarinet is so associated with classical music, we thought [the arrangements] would enhance the sound of the wood of the clarinet with some strings. He did great. He arranged all the string arrangements on the record. With Omer playing and Jason Linder and Daniel Freedman [drums], these are people I have been listening to ever since I came to New York City. I've gotten to play with them quite a bit. I couldn't think of better people to put the spirit of jazz —which will be the interaction and the flexibility to embrace any song and make it build, no matter what style.

She's likewise pleased with Noir. "When you have Ted Nash on the saxophone and my brother Avishai on the trumpet, people that really have character on their instrument, they give character to the written parts; really make music out of their parts, all the people in the orchestra. When the moment comes for them to speak up they are so strong with their personality that it is such a joy to hear that.

Cohen says she's unsure how the music will be categorized, but it contains the basic elements of jazz, even within the arranged structures. Some tunes swing, others are more melodic. But the quality of the music is more important than the label. "In today's scene in New York, there are so many things that are happening, so many jazz musicians are doing so many variations of music. I don't know that because they are jazz musicians playing good music that it makes jazz. I'm sure somebody would like to define it. I would call it jazz because I'm playing it in a jazz quartet, even though the improvisations on Poetics are quite lyrical. There's still a lot of improvisation, even thought it might not be so obvious that they are improvisations.

"I'm very, very happy. It was an incredible experience to record it. Oded Lev-Ari has been my friend ever since high school. I was very happy to try to make a project like that with him. I think he exceeded any expectations. He did a remarkable job on the arrangements. I'm very thrilled with what he wrote and I'm thrilled with the choice of musicians and the performance. Standing in front of a band like that is very thrilling, Cohen says.

The albums are already receiving praise among the critics and Cohen will be touring with a small group through the summer, playing some of that music and mixing in others.

Born in Tel Aviv, Cohen started clarinet studies at age twelve, and played jazz on clarinet for the first time in her Jaffa conservatory's Dixieland band. At sixteen she joined the school's big band and learned to play the tenor saxophone. She entered Thelma Yelin High School for the Arts, where she majored in jazz. She knew Lev-Ari from those days. "We were both in the jazz major, studying jazz. The first year they started the jazz major in the high school, we were the guinea pigs of the school. That's where we met. We stayed friends for all these years and ended up in a musical project.

After graduation, she served her mandatory Israeli military service duty from 1993-95, playing tenor saxophone in the Israeli Air Force band. Eventually, In 1996, she headed to Berklee College of Music in Boston. It not only connected her with the American music scene, but it exposed her to music from other cultures. And it also brought her back to the clarinet, an instrument she played, but got away from for practical, not musical, considerations.

"My first woodwind instrument was the clarinet. I left it for a few years when I started to play jazz, because the clarinet was quite a bit out of fashion for a little while. People were not interested in me playing clarinet. They didn't care which saxophone I'd bring, as long as I didn't bring the clarinet. I kept playing in big bands, so it was always a doubling instrument, but I wasn't really paying too much attention to it. The first person that put the light on for me was Phil Wilson at Berklee. He heard me dabbling in it there and said, 'You should play the clarinet. It's really your voice.' It gave me the idea to try. He made me improvise on the clarinet. I wasn't really using it as jazz before, says Cohen.

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