Claroscuro in Spanish describes the interplay of light and shade and it is an apt title for Clarinetist-Saxophonist extraordinaire Anat Cohen’s sixth solo album. Her expressive virtuoso performances have become famous the world over on either instrument. The sounds coming from her horns, whether dark and sultry or lighthearted and swinging color the music like Monet’s paints covered a canvas.
It’s probably obvious by now that Anat is a favorite of mine. I’ve covered her now five or six times, either supporting other jazz masters or solo or with her brothers. There was Celebrando by Hendrik Meurkens, Gabriel Espinosa with Anat Cohen & Antonio Sanchez back in May, the in November of last year on the album with her siblings, 3 Cohen's “Family”, and as part of Samba Jazz–Jazz Samba by the Duduka Da Fonseca Quintet in July, and on the album, Digging Me, Digging You by Amy Cervini, well, you get the idea. I’m infatuated with her music.However, to clarify just a bit, I don’t have her poster pinned to the ceiling above my bed…yet.
This album covers the field from deliciously buoyant dances to darkly lyrical and sensually sexy ballads, with live-in-the-studio spontaneity a priority; moreover, Claroscuro showcases Cohen’s fluency in a global set of styles, from the creolized chanson of New Orleans and the evergreen swing of an Artie Shaw tune to African grooves and Brazilian choro, samba and more.
Cohen was joined in the studio by her ace working band which includes pianist Jason Lindner, double-‐bassist Joe Martin and drummer Daniel Freedman – as well as special guests: trombonist/vocalist Wycliffe Gordon, percussionist Gilmar Gomes and star clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera.
Anat Cohen is known almost as much for her pure charisma and joie de vivre on stage that it is only fitting the album opens with the quartet and "Anat's Dance," composed by pianist Jason Lindner and titled for Cohen's signature stage movement. About that, she says: "Some might think I should tone down the dancing, but I go with the music. If I'm dancing, it means that I'm having fun, and if I'm having fun, I can't help it." The piece starts out with warm liquid phrasing and the woody tones of Cohen's clarinet, before Lindner and the rhythm section segue into a , pendulous, swinging rhythm for her to sing and dance over. "The melody floats over the form, which is like a standard - except that it doesn't sound like a standard, the way the tune twists and how the vamps are very free," she says. "What I've always found inspirational about Jason is that he never defaults to the expected. He's always creative, always trying to find his own voice."
"All Brothers," is a favorite of mine and it’s a West African-style composition by drummer Daniel Freedman and begins with a kora-like intro on prepared-piano before the expansive groove kicks in and Cohen soars over the top on soprano saxophone in a Coltrane vein.
No less than Jelly Roll Morton insisted that jazz had to have a "Latin tinge," and Cohen has been out to master various Latin sounds since her days at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, particularly the various styles from Brazil. She even taught herself to speak Portuguese. Her idiomatic flair in this music is such that Brazilian Press declared: "Anat is an Israeli who seems like a Brazilian when she plays samba." A sad-eyed ballad by Brazilian singer-songwriter Cartola, "As Rosas Nao Falam"translates as "The Roses Do Not Speak." Cohen says: "It's an unrequited love song - the singer says he could go out to the garden to talk to the roses, which give off the scent of his love, but they wouldn't speak back to him. I tried to convey the emotional essence of the story on my clarinet." The tune is a beautiful, melancholy song whose melody will hang with you hours after the last note from her Clarinet.
"Nightmare," is the clarinet master Artie Shaw’s tune, a minor-key vamp that comes in a two-clarinet version pairing Cohen and Paquito D'Rivera. It’ll evoke a smoky Parisian nightclub with cigarette smoke curling around glasses of dark red wine while lovers glide across a dance floor."The arrangement is condensed for quartet from the big-band original, and I play the first solo, which is my transcription of Artie Shaw's solo, and then Paquito improvises the second solo," she explains. "Paquito has been a great inspiration to me. He has this beautiful, round tone that I love, but it's more than that. He represents the complete musician, playing classical music to bebop, along with Cuban, Brazilian and tango - and all authoritatively. He's an example of how you don't have to separate different styles of music, like `this is classical and this is jazz.' You can juxtapose and blend styles to say something bigger."
"Tudo Que Voce Podia Ser"is the Milton Nascimento's tune expressing the feel of his home state, Minas Gerais where they have a sound that's distinct from Rio or Bahia. Then comes one of the more smoky jazz tunes on the album, "And the World Weeps," , the graet jazz organist, Lonnie Smith wrote this tune and it’s was another instance of impromptu inspiration in the studio, Cohen remembers: "Jason suggested it, and the title spoke to me. There has always been a lot of suffering around, and with the way we're exposed to so much data today, you really feel it. I didn't know how we might do the tune. But Paquito and Wycliffe were in the studio that day, so it was just, `Paquito, you play the upper part; Wycliffe, you play the lower part; and I'll take the middle on tenor.' We did it in a single take, not perfect maybe but very organic."
Cohen - born and raised into a musical family in Tel Aviv, Israel, and a resident of New York City since 1999 - has been chosen the top clarinetist in both the readers and critics polls in DownBeat Magazine, the jazz bible, for several years running, as well as being named the magazine's Rising Star in 2010. She has been named Clarinetist of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association every year since 2007. Cohen will also be featured on the cover of JazzTimes Magazine (Sept 2012 issue). Furthermore, whether playing clarinet, soprano saxophone or tenor saxophone, she has delighted the most knowing of jazz sages: Nat Hentoff praised her "bursting sound and infectious beat," Dan Morgenstern her "gutsy, swinging" style, Ira Gitler her "liquid dexterity and authentic feeling," and Gary Giddins her musicality "that bristles with invention."
I probably say this every time I write about Cohen, but this album may just be my favorite piece of her work to date. It is at turns soothing, smoky, sensual and swinging. All I can say is get the album….and if you happen to run across that poster you think I should pin to the ceiling over my bed….
Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved