Over the weekend, Joe Nocera was rendered speechless–but not wordless though–by the musical stylings of Israeli musician Anat Cohen. Observing her in concert with Duduka Da Fonseca’s quintet, he swooned:
On the first few tunes of the set — mostly the kind of fast-paced, Brazilian-tinged jazz I’ve always loved — Ms. Cohen played the reed instrument most closely associated with postwar jazz: the tenor saxophone. It was immediately apparent that she was a terrific musician, fluid, full-throated, with a knack for creating beautifully crafted, even eloquent solos. Around the fifth song, however, the quintet began playing “Chorinho pra Ele,” a simple, infectious samba by Hermeto Pascoal, the great Brazilian multi-instrumentalist. And that’s when Ms. Cohen did something you rarely see a jazz reed player do these days. She took out her clarinet.
As good as her saxophone playing was, Ms. Cohen on the clarinet was a revelation. Using the clarinet’s upper register, she could evoke infectious joy. In the lower register, her playing could conjure a deep, soulful melancholy. On up-tempo numbers, her improvisations weren’t just bebop fast; they had a clarity and deep intelligence that is really quite rare. She made it look effortless, even as she was playing the most technically difficult of all the reed instruments. She only played a handful of songs on the clarinet that night, but every time she did, she took my breath away.
Nocera went onto ponder whether Cohen was making the clarinet cool again (some Woody Allen fans might see this as Nocera throwing shade).
Not to brag or nothing, but Tablet fell under the spell of Ms. Cohen a few years ago. Ben Waltzer wrote deftly about Cohen as the leader of a burgeoning Israeli presence in New York City jazz. Or as he explained:
While Cohen’s musical voice is highly individual, she is also one of a growing number of Israelis on the New York jazz scene today. If you look at the jazz listings, you’re apt to see the following names appearing regularly: Cohen, Avital, Degibri, Silberstein, Aran, Ravitz, Mor, Klein, Tal. And younger Israeli musicians keep coming. For the last few years, Israelis have made up about 9 percent of the student body at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. “Ironically, it’s the Israeli musicians that come who are keeping the flame of the bebop tradition alive,” said Martin Mueller, executive director of the New School’s jazz program. “When they come here, they’re able to take it in so many directions. And there’s an intensity to the music that comes from a culture surrounded on all sides by either water or enemies.”
The level of talent from Israel at times seems uncanny: A YouTube video of Gadi Lehavi, a 13-year-old piano prodigy, playing a duet with saxophonist David Liebman at Smoke, the uptown club, is a sensation in music circles less for the teenager’s prodigious technique than for his probing maturity at the keyboard. Recently at Fat Cat, the Greenwich Village jazz club and pool hall, the veteran black American drummer Billy Kaye led his group through a set of taut hard-bop that sounded as authentic and creative as any Blue Note record from the early sixties. It turned out that three members of the quintet, pianist Jack Glottman, bassist Ben Meigners, and saxophonist Asaf Yuria, are Israelis under 35. Between games of ping-pong, Amit Friedman, a young saxophonist who had come to hear his friends before returning to Israel the next day, commented on the level of jazz talent among his peers: “Maybe it’s a little bit corny, but Jews have had to improvise for thousands of years in order to survive. It’s natural to us.”
Check out the whole piece here (including some songs) and have a listen to Cohen playing at Sixth and I in Washington, D.C. below. It’ll get you through your Monday.