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REVIEW Anat Cohen's "Clarinetwork"

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Monday June 14, 2010

(From All About Jazz)

By: Thomas Conrad
Published: June 11, 2010

Anat Cohen is one of the major jazz success stories of the last decade. She arrived in New York from Israel in 1996 and, by the turn of the century, was an important factor in the reemergence of the clarinet as a solo jazz instrument. Yet her recordings have not captured the bacchanalian riot of Cohen in person, whirling on the stage, curls flying, unleashing clarinet notes in formally elegant torrents.

Clarinetwork comes closer, in part because it is her first live album. While Cohen’s music until now has been immersed in Israeli, Middle Eastern, classical, Brazilian choro and AfroCuban sources, Clarinetwork is an American history project. On this night at the Village Vanguard in July of 2009, she played eight tunes associated with Benny Goodman on the 100th anniversary of his birth. Clarinetwork is the 118th album recorded at the Village Vanguard. Engineers James Farber and Paul Zinman create a clear, vivid sonic portrait of a time and place.

Those who might think they don’t need to hear “Sweet Georgia Brown” again would be wrong. Cohen slides over it quickly and lightly, then flies far away in a cascading, wheeling, ecstatic celebration. With “St. James Infirmary,” there might also be the feeling of been there, done that. But Cohen starts by twisting sinuously below middle C, then shoots long high brilliant keenings and held notes of catharsis. When she employs theme-and-variation, like the 12-minute “St. Louis Blues” and the furiously fast “What A Little Moonlight Can Do,” she smokes.

Clarinetwork is the album that finally displays the range of Cohen’s resources as an improviser. She generates vast arrays of interrelated ideas and goes right to the edge. It creates excitement when a player with exquisite control is willing to risk losing it. Her extended solos (only two of the tunes are under eight minutes) blend wild exhilaration and finesse. The only quiet performance is “Body And Soul,” the version uncharacteristically gentle and patient, with one trilling spin-off in the middle and a soft, passionate coda at the end. Pianist Benny Green, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash are energetic accompanists. Though they all get solo space, they do not contribute compelling content. They mark time until Cohen’s return.

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