Anat Cohen: Time To Blossom

R.J. DeLuke By

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I think when it comes to music, when you have the passion, its not like you can choose not to do it. You have to do it.
"I would say that's what keeps me content musically is the fact that I try to put myself in different musical situations and I enjoy them all equally, says Anat Cohen, an Israel-born musician who has been making noise in her own sweet way on the New York City music scene since coming to the Big Apple in 1999. The city intimidated her a bit at first, influenced by impressions of the city she had only seen in modern movies that showed a potentially dangerous side, but she has survived and prospered. She's adding her own piece to the quilt that is the city's musical scene.

Cohen has survived the tough town and is navigating the rough, often unforgiving, waters of the business for musicians that play jazz.

Jazz, however, is not all that Cohen is about. Her robust sound on tenor sax and the rich sound she gets out of a clarinet lend themselves nicely to the American art form, as evidenced by her work with the Diva Jazz Orchestra, with which she's worked for nearly a decade, or playing the music of Louis Armstrong in another band. But she can also be found in other parts of the city contributing a variety of Latin forms, including choro music, of which she is particularly fond.

"Sometimes I go through periods that I want to play certain music with the people that dedicate themselves to that style, says Cohen. "To play choro music with people who—that's what they study, choro music. And play the music of Louis Armstrong with the people that study it—you know, not everybody wants to do that, or can do that. If you assume every jazz musician can play the music of Louis Armstrong, it's not really true. It's something you need to dedicate yourself to.

"It's a matter of choice. It's not like one music is hipper. It's a matter of choice of what period you want to dedicate yourself to. Sometimes I feel it is very important to play the style with the people that really know the style ... I would like to play with people who understand those styles, but can be open enough and have studied enough jazz and rhythms and harmony to be able to take it somewhere and bring it to somewhere different than just jazz. Kind of combine everything.

She's not kidding. She has already released two CDs on Anzic Records in 2007, Poetica and Noir, each different, displaying a broad range of music. Both, however, benefit from her sweet melodic sensibilities and deft way with harmonies and rhythm. Later this year, the Choro Ensemble, of which she is a member, will come out with a new CD.

Cohen has played with many established musicians in the city and, like her brothers—saxophonist Yuval and trumpeter Avishai—it's created a buzz. "I'm excited, she says of her music and the opportunities that could result.

Poetica consists of a quartet, with Jason Linder on piano, backed by a string quartet on some of the numbers. The music includes old Israeli songs, a Brazilian tune, a French number and even Coltrane's "Lonnie's Lament. Each is very melodic and the band is very much in sync on the arrangements, which are by Cohen and her bassist, Omer Avital. One of the striking things about it is that Cohen plays only clarinet, and it brings to the forefront how beautifully she plays the instrument. It's almost akin to Johnny Hodges on alto sax in a time when everyone was copying Bird. It's expressive, melodic, emotional.

"These are definitely things that are important to me. Sound is important to me, she says. "I think I'm coming from more of a classical world on the clarinet. When I picked up the clarinet again... it's funny, I was talking to Greg Tardy. We both started on clarinet and left the clarinet alone for years to focus on tenor. Then we both picked up the clarinet again. I told him what I hear on the clarinet, I hear mainly folkloric music. I don't want to play what I play on the tenor to play it on the clarinet. I'm hearing more melodic and older sound. He said exactly he opposite. He said I want to do exactly what I do on the tenor. I want to go on the clarinet and put all the modernism to the clarinet. I think it's just a matter of choice. I never tried to imitate everything I learned on the tenor. Maybe because I get to play so many folkloric kinds of music. I get to play with a Venezuelan guitarist and folkloric Brazilian music and the folkloric Columbian music, Louis Armstrong music.

Noir is with a larger aggregation and Cohen plays tenor, alto and soprano sax as well as clarinet. It features musicians like her brothers, Ted Nash, Ali Jackson, Scott Robinson and more, and also has strings. Oded Lev-Ari arranges and conducts tunes that include Latin music, but also "Cry Me a River, "You Never Told Me That You Care, "Cry, and a delightful pairing of Samba De Orfeu and "Struttin' With Some Barbecue. The sound of her tenor, particularly on "No Moon at All and "You Never Told Me That You Care is sensual and enticing.

Putting them both out this year wasn't intentional. "I had the project with the large ensemble [Poetica], it was an ongoing project. It took about a year, probably, from the minute we thought about it until we actually got the arrangements done and the personnel. It just ended up we had both projects ready at more or less the same time. Because they are so different, I thought, let's just put them both out, says Cohen.


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