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REVIEW Anat Cohen @ the Dakota (Minneapolis)

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Thursday April 29, 2010

(From Jazz Police)

By: Andrea Canter
Published: April 28, 2010

In a recent Jazz Times “Before and After” column, Anat Cohen, after listening to a track by bassist Nillson Matta, described the music as “ an elastic pole moving from side to side.” It would be an apt metaphor for her own clarinet. Over the past decade, the Berklee-trained, New York-based Israeli native has transformed the clarinet and its repertoire from its roots in Dixieland and Swing to a fully modern and leading voice on today’s jazz scene. Perennial winner of “Rising Star” polls among critics, Cohen’s trajectory surely has surpassed “up and coming” status with her “Benny Goodman and Beyond” project, recorded live at the Village Vanguard in summer 2009 and just released as Clarinetwork: Live at the Village Vanguard on her Anzic label. And the leader surrounded herself with the best in the business — pianist Benny Green, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash.

Sunday night (4/25), for the first time since the Vanguard sessions, this quartet reunited for a brief tour starting in Minneapolis at the Dakota Jazz Club. Maybe it was the long hiatus, or perhaps the pleasant surprise of an early spring in Minnesota, or the nearly full-house crowd that issued an enthusiastic welcome. Or, more likely, the high-spirited, ebullient interaction among the musicians simply reflected their love of the music and each other’s company.

To say that Anat Cohen is a virtuoso barely suggests her multidimensional chops and passionate execution. In her hands (and mouth), the clarinet is indeed “an elastic pole moving from side to side,” as well as up and down, a dance partner, the jazz ventriloquist’s “dummy.” There seems to be no emotion that she can not convey in a few notes. Early in his career, after pawning his sax, Charlie Parker played a borrowed clarinet for a short time. Anat Cohen gives us some idea of what Bird might have accomplished if he had not returned to the saxophone.

Like the Pied Piper, Anat had us following every note, caught up in her swaying momentum from the first chorus of a fast-swinging “Sweet Georgia Brown” to the last elegant tones of her encore, “Goodbye,” the only repeat across the two sets. The playlist was filled with tunes from the Benny Goodman songbook, some that have become standards for one generation after another: “Sweet Georgia Brown” (punctuated by Washington’s bouncy basslines); “After You’ve Gone” (ignited by Lewis, who may have the fasted hands in modern percussion); an elegant “Body and Soul” (worth the price of admission for Cohen’s cadenza alone); “St. Louis Blues” (elevated by Washington’s strutting and Nash’s vocals); a modern twist on “Poor Butterfly” (yet thoroughly informed by its point of origin); a “St. James Infirmary” straight out of the Big Easy; “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” (and what an Oscar Peterson-inspired Benny Green can do!); and an exquisite reading of “Memories of You.”

But there were other Goodman treasures that are less often in modern repertoire: Jelly Roll Morton’s madly swinging “Someday Sweetheart” (an exhibition for Benny Green’s precise-at-any-speed articulation); the delightfully Latinized “Slipped Disk;” a dazzling “Lullabye of the Leaves;” “The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise” (Anat’s showcase of trilling triplets); and the encore, “Goodbye,” beautiful in the first set, even more luxurious in closing the night.

Each musician contributes substantially to the whole. Green is unmatched for his powerhouse swing and dexterity, yet never a moment of bombast or technical wizardry for its own sake. Washington plays the straight man, all his emotion coming through his bass, whether taking a slow walk or acrobatic hippity hop. And Nash, beyond those blindingly fast hands, has one of the most fluent and sophisticated vocabularies in modern jazz drumming, and is simply fun to watch as he interacts with every note, every space.

And Anat Cohen! Her reverence for clarinet tradition is as evident as is her passion for communicating in her own voice, a voice that channels the great vocalists of the 30s and 40s, the great horns of bebop, and the swirling sounds and phrasing of freer approaches to harmony and improvisation, splashed with bright tropical colors. With the clarinet she becomes a singer, a dancer, a poet, a mad scientist, laughing—musically—with the sheer delight of reaching that new place, that new feeling, with each chorus. With the dizzying speed of a saxophone, the eloquent legato of a violin or the slippery slides of a trumpet, Anat takes the clarinet “beyond” Goodman, into the 21st century, and back to its rightful place as a lead instrument. And with Cohen in her rightful place as leader of the band.

And what would Benny Goodman say about this resurgence of the clarinet? Maybe “Sing, Sing, Sing.”

To read the article online click here