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Noire by Anat Cohen

I got off on the wrong foot with Anat Cohen. I have been very concerned recently about the hyperbole that surrounds some performers; when the hype gets out too far ahead of the music, it can do more harm than good, and this does seem to happen quite frequently. I was, thus, a little cautious about Cohen after reading some pretty high praise for her work, both from her publicist and a number of reviewers. Being turned away from her sold-out performance at the Mary Lou Williams Women In Jazz Festival in May added to the pressure, as did my disappointment at several recent performances and/or recordings by highly touted artists. But now I have heard her two new CDs and the news is in: Anat Cohen is the real McCoy.

Originally from Tel-Aviv, Israel, Cohen came to the US in 1996 to attend the Berklee School of Music, after which she established herself on the New York music scene, along with her brothers Avishai, (not the bassist, he is a trumpeter--there are now two Avishai Cohens in New York!) and Yuval, a saxophonist. Exposed to world music influences, as well as to jazz at Berklee, Cohen went on to work with Brazilian and other Latin ensembles in New York. Added to her Middle East upbringing, all of this has given her a broad background, which she applies to her performances with both intelligence and spirit. Also encouraged at Berklee to develop her clarinet work along with her saxophone playing, has given her a broad palette to work with. All of these influences are evident in these recordings.

For the purposes of the site, we will look at these CDs in two separate reviews, beginning here with Noir.

This is probably the most accessible of the two recordings, one which has been getting considerable air play. Accompanied by a 13 piece band, plus occasional strings, performing arrangements by fellow Israeli Oded Lev-Ari, Cohen displays all her skill, wit, and charm on ten carefully chosen songs that very beautifully display the breadth of her muscal vision, as well as the depth of her virtuosity. But, it is the way it is all integrated that is the most pleasing.

I played the first track, "La Comparsa " to some Israeli friends who identified with it immediately, but were surprised to find it was by a Cuban composer. Mediterranean and Carribean; who knew? From there, she goes on to work through both jazz and pop standards, some Brazilian Choro, even a Cape Verdian carnaval piece. The medley track, which is proving very popular on jazz radio stations, seemlessly blends a Brazilian classic, "Samba de Orfeu" with the New Orleans classic "Barbecue," Cohen's soprano giving way to Armstrong-inspired trumpet. Overall, Lev-Ari's arrangements show a flair for the dramatic, as well as a sensitivity to the diverse genres. The program is beautifully paced, and enthusiastically executed by the ensemble.

Cohen, who is the principal soloist, scores not so much with virtuosity, but with artistry; she has technique in plenty to support her expressive purposes. She has her own voice on tenor, certainly, but tenor players are ten-a-penny in New York. It is as a clarinetist, to me, that she makes the greatest impact. The instrument has been making a comeback in jazz, with the help of Eddie Daniels, Paquito D'Rivera and others, and Anat's work is making a major contribution. For a further discussion of this, see my review of Poetica. Suffice to say here that it is a fresh sound, but at the same time, one that carries overtones of both classical and folk traditions, so that the very sound of the instrument, the way Cohen handles it, brings these dimensions into the music. Mix these with the colors of the various saxophones she wields with equal assurance, plus the constantly shifting voicings Lev-Ari injects into his arrangements, and the result is something rare among jazz albums: music that is entirely accessible without any kind of dumbing down or smoothing out, music that is infectious because of a universality of musical vision and a genuine sense of joy.

So, bottom line: this recording will be a great success--deservedly. Whether Cohen will catch up with some of the hype, or will become, for example: "The next major voice on the tenor saxophone and clarinet," remains to be seen. In any case, however, this album has taken her a long way in that direction, and it has made a fan out of me.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Anat Cohen
  • CD Title: Noire
  • Genre: Various Jazz Styles
  • Year Released: 2007
  • Record Label: Anzic Records
  • Tracks: 1. La Comparsa 2. No Moon at All 3. Carnaval de São Vicente 4. Do it 5. Cry Me A River 6. You Never Told Me That You Care 7. Medey: Samba de Orfeu/Struttin With Some Barbeque 8. Cry 9. Bebê; 10. Ingênuo'
  • Musicians: Anat Cohen: soprano [7], alto [8], and tenor sax [2,4,6,& 9], clarinet [1,3,5 & 10]; Oded Lev-Ari: arranger, conductor; Frank Greene, Tanya Darby, Avishai Cohen: trumpet, flugelhorn; Ted Nash: alto, soprano sax, flute; Yuval Cohen [7]: soprano sax; Billy Drewes: tenor sax, clarinet; Scott Robinson: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Deborah Weisz, Yonatan Voltzok: trombone; Guilherme Monteiro: guitars; Barak Mori: bass; Ali Jackson [2,4-6,8], Antonio Sanchez [1,3,7,10]: drums; Duduka Da Fonseca: drums [9], percussion [3,7]; Zé Mauricio: percussion; Erik Friedlander, Robert Burkhart, Greg Heffernan: cello
  • Rating: Five Stars
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