Jazz clarinetist Anat Cohen reports that she was spared the calamitous effects of Hurricane Sandy.
“We’re some of the luckiest people — we were not affected,” she says, during a phone conversation with the AJW last week from her home in New York City. “Everything is fine in my neighborhood; there was no flooding and no shortage of anything, which is pretty far out, considering the devastation in other parts of the city.”
Cohen resides “in the holy land of Brooklyn, in a part called Williamsburg,” which also is home to thousands of Hasidim. “We were passed over.”
A brilliant star in the jazz firmament — she recently again won the Downbeat critics’ and readers’ polls in the clarinet category — Cohen returns this month for her third appearance in as many years at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. She will take the stage with her quartet, and special guest Evan Christopher, another wonderful clarinetist and composer, who is based in New Orleans.
Cohen and Christopher were scheduled to play together Nov. 9, as part of Minnesota Orchestra’s Clarinet Festival. And Cohen also was booked as the special guest Nov. 10, with The Klezmatics and the symphony orchestra. However, the classical musicians have been locked out of Orchestra Hall in a pay dispute, and all concerts have been cancelled through Nov. 25.
“I hope I will get to do the show with the symphony next year,” Cohen comments wistfully. “I was going to do a lot of things and then none of it is going to happen.
Fortunately, the Dakota has booked the clarinetists for two shows on Saturday, Nov. 10. Cohen says that she will play clarinet and alto saxophone. Her young musical comrades are Jason Lindner, piano; Joe Martin, bass; and Daniel Freedman, drums. (Lindner and Freedman will hit Minneapolis fresh off a tour of Japan with Israeli bassist Omer Avital, who will bring his Band of the East to the St. Paul JCC in January.)
Cohen’s quartet is the core group featured on her sensational new album, Claroscuro, released by her own Anzic Records label. The Israeli jazz star says she will play “some new stuff,” unrecorded tunes, when she plays the Dakota this weekend. But much of the repertoire will be songs from the immensely enjoyable Claroscuro, which includes original compositions by Cohen, Lindner and Freedman.
The album also features “Nightmare,” a song by the great swing era clarinetist and bandleader Artie Shaw. And there are a few numbers by Brazilian composers, including the languid “As Rosas NÃ£o Falam,” by samba innovator Cartola; and “Um a Zero,” by the famous choro composer Pixinguinha, in which Cohen plays unison lines at a breakneck pace with the celebrated Cuban clarinetist and sax player Paquito D’Rivera. Cohen credits D’Rivera’s playing with inspiring her to pick up her clarinet again years ago, after concentrating on saxophone.
One of the highlights of Claroscuro is “La vie en rose,” the Edith Piaf song, which features a vocal — an homage to Louis Armstrong — and instrumental solo by trombonist Wycliffe Gordon. “I do love it, it’s one of my favorite tracks from the album,” she comments, regarding the exceedingly romantic tune.
A recent press release sent to the AJW announced that Cohen had joined the bill for a New York City concert with pianist Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. The concert was titled “Falafel, Freilach, and Frijoles: From Mambo to Borscht.” The show was created to examine “the long and venerable relationship between the Latino and Jewish communities as evidenced by the history of Mambo and Salsa bands performing for avid dancers called ‘mamboniks’ in the predominantly Jewish resort area of the Catskills known as the Borscht Belt.”
Cohen was not quite sure what she would be serving up on the musical menu for the concerts last weekend (which were rebranded as fundraisers for Hurricane Sandy victims). “I’m the falafel, the freilach and the borscht,” she says, with a laugh. She was set to play on some songs arranged by avant-garde trumpeter Steven Bernstein.
“Latin music has so much of the freilach [happy musical lilt of Jewish music], it has the energy, it has a lot in common” with the music of the shtetl, she remarks.
“What’s the Jewish sound?” she asks. “The clarinet, for me, is the Jewish sound.”
If you wonder what accounts for Cohen’s ascent in the jazz world, one factor is certainly her Israeli family, specifically her younger brother, Avishai, who plays trumpet, and older brother, Yuval, who plays mainly soprano saxophone. The Cohen siblings early on formed a tight musical support system, and they continue to collaborate as the 3 Cohens. Their most recent album is Family, also on the Anzic label. The famous guest artist on Family is Jon Hendricks, the legendary jazz vocalist, who is renowned for his work with the vocalese trio Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, in the 1950s and ’60s.
“It was a real honor to have him on the album,” says Cohen, who explains that Hendricks served as “the trigger” for the recording.
The Cohens met Hendricks at a music festival in Brazil. “We did a show playing the music of Louis Armstrong, our own arrangements. We met him in the lobby of the hotel — he was at the same festival in Brazil; and he just came in to the sound check and he decided to sit in with us,” Cohen recalls. “He’s the one who said, ‘Let’s record.’”
Both as a bandleader on her own recordings and with the 3 Cohens, Anat Cohen pays homage to the great jazz tradition — Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, et al. — while infusing the music with disparate influences from South America, the Middle East and, of course, the “Jewish sound.” In this way, moving from the roots to the source, Cohen creates a contemporary sound that has wide appeal.
The Tel Aviv native’s virtuosic recorded works are compelling, but you really have to see Cohen live in concert, when the music moves her, body and soul, sets her swaying and dancing around, and yelling out encouragement to her bandmates. She truly lives for these moments on stage.
As our chat winds up, I ask her what else she would like to say to AJW readers ahead of her Dakota gig on Saturday night.
“Just come and have fun with us,” she suggests.
Anat Cohen will perform two shows, 7 and 9 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10 at the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant, 1010 Nicollet in downtown Minneapolis. For reservations, call 612-332-1010, then 2, or go to: dakotacooks.com.
The Dakota’s weekend of music from Israel continues on Sunday, when legendary singer-songwriter David Broza performs one show at 7 p.m. (10-26-12 AJW).
Since 1912 the AJW has served as an important news resource for the Jewish community. The Jewish World unites the main Jewish communities in St. Paul and Minneapolis, as well as those in Duluth, Rochester and smaller cities, and bridges the divides between the various Jewish religious streams.