Frankly, I had no idea what to expect from Anat Cohen's first big band album. But if I'd had any expectations, they'd have easily been surpassed by the time the opening track reached its midway point. Cohen plays clarinet on that selection, and it's easy to understand why music critics have named her one of Down Beat magazine's "rising stars on the instrument. She's not only an intrepid and resourceful clarinetist, but also equally impressive on tenor, alto and soprano saxophones, as she proves elsewhere.
Cohen and the Anzic Orchestra are complemented by the album's exquisite charts, written by her longtime friend, Oded Lev-Ari, who seems able to adapt any style from Brazilian to ballad, bop to pop, and make it lustrous and engaging. From the opening measures of Ernesto Lecuona's celebratory "La Comparsa, it's clear that Cohen chose the right man for the task, and he never lets her down, producing splendid arrangements of Latin themes ("Comparsa, "Carnaval de São Vicente, Bebé, "Ingênuo ), Hit Parade favorites by Nat Cole ("No Moon at All ), Julie London ("Cry Me a River ) and Johnny Ray ("Cry ), Johnny Griffin's bop-centered "Do It, a zestful medley of Luiz Bonfa's "Samba de Orfeu and Lil Hardin Armstrong's "Struttin' with Some Barbeque, and even a little-known ballad, "You Never Told Me That You Care, co-authored by Hobart Dotson and Sun Ra.
While the writing is exemplary, Cohen's playing is no less so. She divides her time between clarinet ("La Comparsa, "Carnaval, "River, Ingênuo ) and tenor ("Moon, "Do It, "You Care, "Bebé ), moving to alto on "Cry, soprano on "Orfeu/Barbeque, and is superb on every one. The tenor sound is big and muscular, with traces of Sonny Rollins, Joe Lovano and even Ben Webster/Coleman Hawkins surfacing from time to time. "Cry, we're told, marks her recorded debut on alto, but one would never assume that from her flawless technique and placid self-assurance. On soprano, Cohen evokes a clear, handsome tone reminiscent of the fabulous Zoot Sims, best known as a tenor man but a monster on soprano as well.
Even though Cohen amasses the bulk of the solos, she's so persuasive that one scarcely notices. There are, however, cogent statements along the way by various members of the ensemble, including saxophonists Billy Drewes, Ted Nash and Scott Robinson; trombonist Yonatan Voltzok, guitarist Guilherme Monteiro and Anat's brothers, trumpeter Avishai and soprano saxophonist Yuval (on "Barbeque ). Also worth noting is Lev-Ari's deft use of cellos on several numbers.
In spite of its murky title, there's nothing Noir (dark) about this album. Anat Cohen is a bright young talent, and she and the orchestra are sunny and sparkling throughout. Don't overlook this treasure.
La Comparsa; No Moon at All; Carnaval de S
Anat Cohen: leader, tenor, alto, soprano sax, clarinet; Oded Lev-Ari: arranger, conductor; Frank Greene, Tanya
Darby, Avishai Cohen: trumpet, flugelhorn; Ted Nash: alto, soprano sax, flute; Yuval Cohen (7): soprano sax;
Billy Drewes: tenor sax, clarinet; Scott Robinson: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Deborah Weisz, Yonatan Voltzok:
trombone; Guilherme Monteiro: guitars; Barak Mori: bass; Ali Jackson (2,4-6,8), Antonio Sanchez (1,3,7,10):
drums; Duduka Da Fonseca: drums (9), percussion (3,7); Z
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