Anat Cohen / Fred Hersch - Live in Healdsburg

Label: Anzic Records, 2018

Personnel - Anat Cohen: clarinet; Fred Hersch: piano.

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On their debut duo record, world-class instrumentalists Anat Cohen and Fred Hersch, clarinetist and pianist, respectively, included originals and carefully selected repertoire, whose variety enriches sonic possibilities as it supplements their creative vein. This intimate recording session was part of the 2016 Healdsburg Jazz Festival's lineup and comes in the sequence of very personal works recently put out by the two artists - Cohen gathered a skillful tentet to bring Happy Song (Anzic, 2017) to life, while Hersch orchestrated the enchanting Open Book (Palmetto, 2017) alone at a piano.

Produced by Cohen’s longtime musical partner Oded Lev-Ari, Live in Healdsburg starts with two compositions by Hersch. The opener, “A Lark”, which first appeared on the album Trio +2 (Palmetto, 2004), has the affectionate melody outlined by the clarinet, sliding over chord changes or ever-changing textures. Spinning with as much pleasure as free abandonment, Hersch, mostly conducting his accompaniment over the mid and high registers, achieves a further grandiosity whenever he hits the supporting bass notes. 

The duo's gentleness continues on the following piece. “Child’s Song” holds a rubato piano introduction that takes us to a 6/4 tempo put on hold by a staccato pianism. Brief pedals are combined with folk and classical movements in a middle passage that sometimes feels enigmatic without losing the sweetness of tone.

Cohen also shows to be a serious connoisseur and adept of the jazz tradition on her waltzing, classical-tinged “The Purple Piece”. Although she rarely explored rhythmic ideas that go beyond the expected on the weightless rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s “Isfahan”, her improvisation was fantastic on Hersch's bebop-inspired “Lee’s Dream”, a tune harmonically based on “You Stepped Out of a Dream” that served to honor saxophonist Lee Konitz. Still, the true emotions were left to “The Peacocks”, where the clarinet digs deep into the essence of our soul. Bill Evan’s interpretation of this tune might be insuperable, but this ego-less duet also captures and exposes the grandeur of the piece based on a flawless instrumental alliance.

After Fats Waller’s emblematic “Jitterbug Waltz”, here re-invented with a playful intro from piano, expressive musical smiles, and loose-limbed interplay with some rhythmic wallops, the recording comes to an end with the amicable serenity of Ellington’s classic “Mood Indigo”.

Inspiring each other and divinely ingratiated by their natural talent and musical sophistication, Cohen and Hersch make effortless music. This cute live recording, warmly temperate and melodic, makes for a pleasant listen.

        Grade  B

        Grade B

Favorite tunes: 
01 – A Lark ► 05 – Lee’s Dream ► 06 – The Peacocks


Anat Cohen Tentet - Happy Song

Label/Year: Anzic Records, 2017

Lineup – Anat Cohen: clarinet; Sheryl Bailey: guitar; Nadje Noordhuis: trumpet; Owen Broder: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Nick Finzer: trombone; Vitor Gonçalves: accordion; Rubin Kodheli: cello; James Shipp: vibraphone, percussion; Tal Mashiach: bass; Anthony Pinccioti: drums.

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Anat Cohen is a multifaceted clarinetist-composer who has been recently immersed in the Brazilian jazz scene. Two of her recent outings, Rosa dos Ventos and Outra Coisa, recorded with Trio Brasileiro and guitarist Marcello Gonçalves, respectively, confirm exactly that.
For her newest record, Happy Song, she changes direction, gathering a dynamic tentet whose members come from different parts of the world, a fact that suits perfectly her wide eclectic vision and multi-cultural approach to music.

The repertoire here consists of eight pieces ranging in color and style and telling the story of the clarinet under the guidance of musical director and longtime collaborator Oded Lev-Ari.
 
Opening this polychromatic tour is the title track, which is nothing else than a funky exercise delivered with a contagious groove and blues-inflected speeches. Cohen’s clarinet takes the leading role, always well supported by the funky chunks of Sheryl Bailey’s guitar and the well-shaped movements superiorly orchestrated by the unified collective.
 
Valsa para Alice” is expressively poetic in its engrossing melody, featuring passionate solos by the bandleader, the vibraphonist James Ship, and the Brazilian accordionist Vitor Gonçalves. The latter’s dramatic intonations deserve the spotlight on “Loro”, a piece by the virtuous Egberto Gismonti, in which Brazilian folklore with all its enriching rhythms gives it an exuberant sense of uplift.
 
Evoking the traditional swing era, Owen Murphy’s cheerful “Oh Baby” is arranged with humor and character. It combines Duke Ellington's orchestrations with Joe Pass’ swinging fervency and rejoices with improvisations by Bailey, Cohen, trumpeter Nadje Noordhuis, and baritonist Owen Broder, intercalated by in-synch phrases and call-response maneuvers. By the end, is Pinccioti who shines with efficient rhythmic bite.

One of the most idiosyncratic pieces, “Anat’s Doina”, is split into three Eastern-tinged movements: Mayse, Der Gasne Nigun, and Foile-Shtick. The amply dramatic appeal is heavily reinforced by Rubin Kodheli’s cello, but expect other stunts like shifting rhythmic accentuations within the ternary time signature, compulsive Polka-like dances delivered with celebratory postures, and a smooth crossover jazz with strong Latin vibes.
 
Cohen and her peers also tackle “Trills and Thrills”, an emotional pop/rock ballad composed by Dev-Ari and driven by Bailey’s six-string weeping laments, and Neba Solo’s “Kanedougou Foly”, a piece propelled by exotic African percussion rhythms and where the melodic suggestions of the clarinetist find echo in the counteractions of the horn section. Cohen arranged this one herself.

Happy Song mirrors the forthright and sumptuous style of Anat Cohen, whose adaptability to multiple genres and settings is impressive. It’s remarkable how easily one can engage in this multiethnic celebration of the creative spirit.

       Grade  B+

       Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Valsa Para Alice ► 03 - Oh Baby ► 06 – Trills and Thrills