Anat Cohen: Clarinetwork Live At The Village Vanguard

Dan Bilawsky By

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Anat Cohen
Clarinetwork Live At The Village Vanguard
Anzic Records

For a jazz musician, performing, and recording an album, at New York's Village Vanguard is akin to an opera singer performing at the Metropolitan Opera. Both of these accomplishments signify a milestone in an artist's career, but clarinetist and saxophonist Anat Cohen had "made it" long before this project came to be. Since her arrival in New York in 1999, Cohen has proven to be an unstoppable juggernaut of creative energy, excitement and instrumental virtuosity. She's touched on Brazilian music—with the Choro Ensemble and Duduka Da Fonseca—and worked with big bands of all varieties, from the all-female Diva Jazz Orchestra to the strikingly inventive Jason Lindner Big Band. Collaborative settings, ranging from the Waverly Seven to the Three Cohens—which features Middle Eastern-tinged melodies spun by Cohen and her brothers, trumpeter Avishai and saxophonist Yuval—have also been an important part of Cohen's career.

While these associations have helped to shine the spotlight in her direction, it's Cohen's own albums that have elevated her to celebrity status within the jazz community. Her debut, Place And Time (Anzic, 2005) brought her a bit of attention, but the two albums she released two years later cemented her place in the modern jazz pantheon. Poetica (Anzic, 2007) presents Cohen's clarinet in contemplative settings that touch on music from her native Israel, Brazil and France, and the near-perfect Noir (Anzic, 2007) brings together a large group of musicians to create stirring settings of diverse material, from "La Comparsa" to "Cry Me A River." Her follow-up, Notes From The Village (Anzic, 2008), is a strong collection of music that features energetic originals like "Washington Square Park," along with original arrangements of Sam Cooke's anthemic "A Change Is Gonna Come" and John Coltrane's "After The Rain."

While Cohen looks from New York to Brazil to Israel for inspiration in her musical selections, she also looks to the past. Whether she's interpreting a Louis Armstrong song on her regular Wednesday gig with David Ostwald's Gully Low Jazz Band (a.k.a the Louis Armstrong Centennial Band) at Birdland, or interpreting a Fats Waller song on one of her own recordings, Cohen understands that the history of jazz is in the music that the masters created.

With history in mind, Cohen used a week-long residency at the Village Vanguard (in June of 2009) to celebrate clarinetist Benny Goodman's centennial with a program that she called "Benny Goodman and Beyond." Cohen was in good company, bringing along perennial swing taste-makers such as drummer Lewis Nash, bassist Peter Washington and pianist Benny Green for the music that is captured on Clarinetwork Live At The Village Vanguard.

The set starts off with a snappy take on "Sweet Georgia Brown" and Cohen wastes no time, immediately immersing herself in the music as she rides over Nash's swinging drums, Washington's solid walking lines and Green's tasty, tailor-made piano accompaniment. Green follows Cohen and builds his solo in intensity, finally reaching a climax and setting off a series of traded solos that highlight Nash's drumming. "Lullaby Of The Leaves" begins with some captivating, floating clarinet lines, along with shimmering piano and cymbal sounds. While things start off in a more intimate setting, the music still moves and the intensity and insistent swing builds. Following a piano solo, featuring some of Green's dazzling runs up and down the piano, Washington steps out with a tasty bass solo that immediately gets the attention of the audience.

"St James Infirmary" proves to be the highlight of the album and Cohen reaches a state of musical ecstasy heretofore unheard, as her clarinet moans, sighs, soars and wails with passion and emotion, while the rhythm section drives it all. The bluesy, New Orleans sway is perfectly presented through Green's piano solo, which bridges the gap before Cohen returns with the melody. An up-tempo romp through "After You've Gone" features Cohen's clarinet in hyper-speed and she continues to impress, whether throwing in some Goodman-esque lines or quoting "Surrey With The Fringe On Top." Following Green's piano spot, Nash takes an extended solo that keeps the energy level high. The band takes a 12-plus minute ride through "St. Louis Blues," which gives Cohen, Green and Washington a chance to blow off some steam in a comfortably-paced swing setting and features some wordless vocals as a bonus.

While tenor saxophonists will always stake claim to "Body And Soul," clarinetists from Goodman to the ever-impressive Eddie Daniels—and many in between—have put their stamp on the song. Cohen coaxes her clarinet into providing some melodious, soothing sounds and Green's playing is classy and supportive. A clarinet cadenza at the close proves to be the icing on the cake. "What A Little Moonlight Can Do" brings the band back to a high-energy swing setting and closes out the show. While some stellar material from other sets that week—including terrific takes on "Bedlam" and "Slipped Disc"—didn't show up on this recording, everything that does appear shows Cohen to be at the top of her game...and her field for that matter. Here's hoping that she'll release a live recording from her Sidney Bechet-themed shows at the Vanguard too.

Tracks: Sweet Georgia Brown; Lullaby Of The Leaves; Band Announcement; St. James Infirmary; After You've Gone; St. Louis Blues; Body And Soul; What A Little Moonlight Can Do.

Personnel: Anat Cohen: clarinet; Benny Green: piano; Peter Washington: bass; Lewis Nash: drums.

Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Anzic Records | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream

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