Montreal Jazz Festival: Days 4-6, July 4-6, 2009

John Kelman By

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July 6: Anat Cohen Quartet

Slowing down the pace and energy—although there was no shortage of impassioned playing during her set—Israeli-born, New York-resident clarinetist Anat Cohen gave a standout performance at FIJM's new L'Astral venue, housed in the Maison du Festival Rio Tinto Alcan, its new headquarters located at the festival's ground zero. Whether playing with siblings Avishai (trumpet) and Yural (saxophone) as the 3 Cohens on One (Self Produced, 2005) or with her own group on albums including Place in Time (Anzic, 2005), the clarinetist has been gradually building a solid reputation as both an astute composer and captivating performer.

Featuring two young members of her group from Notes from the Village (Anzic, 2008)—guitarist Gilad Hekselmen and drummer Daniel Freedman—alongside bassist Joe Martin (Jane Monheit's musical arranger on the singer's In the Sun (N2K, 2002), Cohen's 75-minute set included two of her own tunes, one from Hekselman, and two covers arranged for maximum effect. Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz" opened the set, providing plenty of solo space, but most impressively for Hekselman, a remarkable player who channels a lot of references into his own style, but most notably that of Mick Goodrick in his ability to create streaming arpeggios and broad intervallic leaps.

Festival International de Jazz de Montreal / Anat Cohen
l:r: Gilad Hekselmen, Joe Martin, Anat Cohen, Daniel Freedman

Cohen is a fluid player who was also a commanding presence onstage, although her youthful exuberance was, at times, a little over the top. Still, her ability to create serpentine cascades of notes and vibrant flourishes made her exceptionally popular with the audience. While her "J Blues" was a fine blues that, again, gave her group plenty of room to maneuver but was nothing out of the ordinary compositionally, "The Purple Piece" was a far better demonstration of her writing skill. A ballad that, as it progressed, gradually assumed more weight and energy, it was a compelling piece that spotlighted both herself and Hekselman with two of the finest solos of the set.

Another highlight was her set closer, a bright choro that spotlighted Freedman, who was yet another outstanding drummer at a festival that seems to be overflowing with them. It was a fine set from an engaging player whose reputation continues to grow. Cohen proved an astute leader and recruiter of lesser-known talent deserving of greater exposure—especially Hekselman, whose second album, Words Unspoken (Smalls. 2009), has just been released and demonstrates considerable promise.

Visit Joshua Redman, Brian Blade, Kenny Werner, Jeff Beck, Anat Cohen and Festival International de Jazz de Montreal on the web.

Photo Credits
All Photos: John Kelman

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