3 Cohens at Village Vanguard


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Anat, Uval and Avishai Cohen
The Village Vanguard
New York, New York
June 23, 2009

If jazz is an attitude, then the Cohen family has it in spades. That much was evident from the moment Anat, Yuval and Avishai took the hallowed Village Vanguard stage on a sweaty Tuesday night. In a set whose moods ran the gamut from joyous to melancholy, with a bit of humor thrown in for good measure, there was nary a complacent moment as both the compositional and improvisational acumen of these great musicians was on full display.

This was the first set of a week-long stay at the Vanguard for the 3 Cohens (Anat will stay an extra week to showcase her Clarinet Work band in a tribute to Benny Goodman), and there was certainly a sense that this show was somewhat of a family reunion. But make no mistake: these are professionals in possession of chops of the highest order, and the chemistry between the family trio and their cohorts was spot-on the entire evening.

Anat (tenor saxophone and clarinet), Yuval (soprano saxophone) and Avishai (trumpet) were joined by the superb rhythm section of Aaron Goldberg (piano), Matt Penman (bass) and Gregory Hutchinson (drums). There has been much cross-pollination among the various band members (Penman and Avishai both currently play in the SFJazz Collective, Goldberg plays on Penman's solo album The Unquiet, Goldberg and Hutchinson were together for a stint in Joshua Redman's band, etc.), so the level of familiarity between the musicians is high.

This was one of those sets where the listener just gets that feeling deep down and is immediately transfixed. The first tune began innocently enough—a bop melody with an overt klezmer influence. Anat took the first solo and seemed to be easing into the set, but Yuval followed with what would turn out to be his most creative turn of the evening. He seemed to soar ever higher, like a bird, playing circles around the changes. Avishai went last and brought the intensity back to the room, prompting Hutchinson and Goldberg to follow along at a breakneck pace.

The skills of the 3 Cohens cannot be overstated. Avishai is endlessly creative, seeming to always play the "right" note yet never overextend himself. Reminiscent of trumpeter Tom Harrell, he is able to be a chameleon, adapting his style to what a certain tune needs most. Often during this evening his solo would provide perfect counterpoint to what had come before it.

Anat has a bounce and vitality about her that is infectious, while possessing an ability to harness that energy while serving the groove and the mood of a tune. She played with deep emotion on a heart wrenching ballad mid-set, and followed that up by finding the funky side of a later tune. In addition, her whoops and yelps spurred the other musicians on.

At least in this set, the lion's share of the compositions were written by Yuval, and he did not disappoint. What was remarkable about the compositions is that they never quite conformed to the head-solo-head format of most jazz arrangements, always containing some unique twist that held the attention of the audience. Often the remaining horns would provide counterpoint to the soloist in a rhythmic roll; at other times, solos would overlap, or there would be group improvisation.

But the Cohen family was not the only focus of the evening. The rhythm section was given ample time in the spotlight, and each member acquitted himself handsomely. A blues written by Yuval began as a piano trio with Goldberg out front. The pianist started out with a slow shuffle before gradually quickening the pace. Goldberg has distinguished himself with his sensitive comping, adapting to each soloist's personal style and adding watery color. Penman took only a single solo, but his rhythmic accompaniment showed a unique creativity. Often he would hit just the "right" note and stick with it, drawing a range of expressive meanings from this simplest musical source. Hutchinson led from his kit, above all else defining the direction of each tune.

The set closer, Avishai's "Freedom," off of Braid (Anzic, 2007), the group's second album, provided a perfect coda to a superb evening of music. Each band member save Penman was given solo space on this modal, "Milestones"-influenced, vehicle. Avishai's solo was light and airy, while Anat soon gave the appreciative crowd reason to cheer with her own soulful turn. Goldberg took his most lyrical and intense solo of the set, and Hutchinson outdid himself as well before the band left the stage, smiles all around. Since this was the first set of a long run, this band will only improve with each passing night, and is a unit offering much for fanatics and casual fans alike.

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