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Anat Cohen Tentet at Jazz Alley

Anat Cohen Tentet at Jazz Alley

Courtesy Lisa Hagen Glynn


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Cohen’s fountain of vibrational resonance is relentless, and apparently, renewable at a constant rate.
—Paul Rauch
Anat Cohen Tentet
Jazz Alley
Seattle, Washington
February 27, 2024

The wonderfully diverse and swinging ten-piece ensemble led by clarinetist Anat Cohen doesn't have the opportunity to tour very often. Since the release of Happy Song (Anzic, 2017), the band's first release on the label that Cohen founded with partner Oded Lev-Ari, the evolution of the band's recording and touring life has been interrupted by among other things, a worldwide pandemic. The Grammy-nominated second album, Triple Helix (Anzic, 2019) hit the shelves a short half-year from the worldwide shutdown of live performance. Add to it the basic difficulties and expense of touring with a large ensemble and the odds of seeing Cohen's epic band become slim. Their five-day residency at SF Jazz in March, 2022 was the last time the band had shared a stage prior to this tour.

The ensemble's two-night stay at Seattle's venerable Jazz Alley laid to rest any notion that inactivity had added any creative rust to the function of this quirky, odd and marvelous band. The musicians and the music skillfully composed and arranged by Cohen and Lev-Ari best express the joy and full release of the clarinetist's career-long musical persona.

While the music is infused with Cohen's fascination with Brazilian, klezmer and classical music among other forms she became familiar with growing up near Tel Aviv, the band ultimately swings. This is clear in the original tunes as well as covers of composers as diverse as Benny Goodman and Astor Piazzolla. As a clarinetist, Cohen is comfortable maneuvering from Brazilian choro to swing at the drop of a hat, from complex, notated work to free, off-the-hook improvisation. The band has a wonderful dialogue, and a high pedigree to pull off anything Cohen and Lev-Ari can conjure up compositionally. The tonal makeup of the band seems odd and uneven at first glance, but somehow works as a unique machination of sound. Cohen was joined on the front line by trombonist Nick Finzer, trumpeter Nadje Noordhuis, baritone saxophonist Owen Broder and master cellist Malcolm Parson. Brazilian pianist / accordionist Vitor Gonçalves, bassist Tal Mashiach, guitarist Sheryl Bailey, vibraphonist James Shipp and drummer Anthony Pinciotti complete the lineup. Imagining the sound of this ensemble without full knowledge of the cast would be a difficult proposition.

The friendship of Cohen and Lev-Ari dates back to their Tel Aviv school days. On this tour, Lev-Ari was the musical director and conductor and shares composing and arranging duties with Cohen. The affable clarinetist is a never ending source of positivity, a trait reinforced by the band's opener, "Happy Song." The tune not only set an emotional tone for the evening, but tied together neatly all of the musical elements of the band's lineage.

With Piazzolla's "Milonga del Angel," the delicate balances of the band fell into place, with the notably different tenor sound of Parson's cello standing out. Parson found ways within the notated framework of arranged pieces and in his improv work to fit in, often supported wisely by the crafty guitar work of Bailey. Cohen blew up that vibe in a hurry, hurtling into Goodman's classic, "Oh Baby." Her rich, full and voluminous sound on clarinet is strong and beautifully articulated. Focusing on the one instrument on this tour, Cohen can swing hard while migrating freely from tune to tune, from style to style.

The highlight of the evening was the performance of the three movement title piece, "Triple Helix." Composed and arranged by Lev-Ari, the concerto was commissioned by Carnegie Hall and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In many ways it acts as a bridge between European classical music and modern improvisational music. The band played the notated score of the first movement with great feeling and balance, sounding as free and open-ended as when they are soloing. Guitarist Bailey took the first improvised section to an emotional peak, with Cohen playing counter-intuitive twists and turns in support.

Pinciotti lead the band into the second movement, reminding us that he is truly the engine that pushes the ensemble through thick and thin. In this case, the percussion section passed the torch on to bassist Mashiach and Goncalves' precision work on button accordion and piano. The use of cello and piano to create an almost dark, desolate place musically was resolved by Cohen's elegant and strong voice in tandem with Goncalves and Parson in a hopeful response. Noordhuis contributed a trumpet solo in the third movement that had a distinct New Orleans feel—yet another color to add to the band's diverse palette. Cohen's complete mastery of her instrument was in plain view in these more wistful moments. Whether playing the extremely challenging opening score in movement three, or swinging with complete abandon throughout the performance, her sound is powerful, woody and alive with dimensional emotion. Amid discussions of her place in the long lineage of jazz clarinetists, one thing cannot be denied—her sound is notably different and genuine.

Goncalves was featured on button accordion for the Egberto Gismonti piece, "Loro." With solos spread out among a very talented ten-piece band, his solo and that of baritone saxophonist Broder on Bela Fleck's "Sleeper," brought to light the broad tonal range of the performance. Buried in the rear of the jam packed stage at Jazz Alley, Shipp was a whirlwind of percussive sound between a variety of instruments added to his work on vibraphone. As previously mentioned, drummer Pinciotti played with great drive and with great sensitivity as well. Lev-Ari's arrangement of the piece made it sound as if Fleck had written it with this ensemble in mind, not the fiercely original banjo player himself.

There is something very real and very positive about Cohen that is brought to the surface by her work with Lev-Ari. If feeling is the most important thing about music—and it is—then the one hour and 45 minutes spent witnessing this set was pure gold. Cohen's fountain of vibrational resonance is relentless and apparently, renewable at a constant rate.

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