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Anat Fort at Birdland

Budd Kopman By

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Anat Fort at Birdland
Birdland
315 West 44th Street
New York City

March 13, 2007, 7:00 PM

Tuesdays at Birdland belong to David Berger and his Sultans of Swing, at least at 9 PM. On this night, however, the early set most definitely belonged to Anat Fort, who was giving an album release concert for her new ECM recording, A Long Story.

The club was packed by friends, fellow musicians, press and many others who were treated to music from the record, arranged and played differently to be sure, which represents an almost fairy-tale culmination of a dream from years ago. The album's title refers to the long path Fort took to get her music on the ECM label.

Briefly, Fort had wanted to play with Paul Motian ever since she heard him on a Bill Evans record. Moving to New York City from Israel in 1996, Fort became involved in the downtown scene, eventually playing with clarinetist Perry Robinson and bassist Ed Schuller, both of whom have old connections with Motian. Eventually, Fort asked Motian to record her music with Robinson and Schuller. Motian's first reaction was 'no' since he knew nothing about Fort or her music, but Schuller prevailed upon him. At the session, Motian was so taken with the music that he recommended the recording to Manfred Eicher of ECM, who had a hand in mixing it, and three years later it came out.

What attracted and intrigued Motian so much about Fort's music was clearly heard during this set, but what exactly makes Fort's music so attractive is hard to pin down.

It's music with a transparency and a familiarity that seduces the listener and fools her into thinking that these melodies and motives have always been in the air, just waiting for Fort to capture them. Much has been made of Fort's Mid-East background, which has been transplanted to New York, and almost every tune is touched in some way by scales from her original homeland. Yet, "Lullaby" is so totally American, especially as played by Robinson, as to almost make one laugh out loud. It sounds so quintessentially American, and yet nothing is obvious, provoking the question as to what makes it so.

The rhythms of Fort's music are supple and again not obvious. I was sitting near the drums and could see drummer Roland Schneider, who is Fort's regular trio percussionist, shifting in and out of a clear pulse. Each tune has a structure that belies Fort's classical composition studies and moves resolutely forward. Harmonically, the music is chameleon-like with an audible root most of the time; at other times the feeling of key is subverted, only to be reinforced shortly afterwards.

The combination of all of these parts happening simultaneously — memorable melodies, shifting harmonies and subtle rhythm — makes for music that is accessible and yet deep enough to fully engage the mind. The music is just there, hanging ripely, waiting to be tasted.

Surrounded by players who share her affinities and who have internalized Fort's music both from playing with her over the years and on this promotional tour for the record, the band was very agile and used very few signals that I could see. Each band member's spirit had room to shine both individually and collectively.

May the "long story" continue.

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