Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
It’s not uncommon for people to get up and holler at a jazz show. Usually, though, that happens at the end of the night. In this case, at the end of the Anat Cohen Quartet’s joyous treatment of Milton Nascimento’s “Everything You Could Be,” a middle-aged man in a leather jacket stood up during the applause and started yelling at the band. It turned out he was merely complaining about the light on bassist Omer Avitel’s music stand (which, I have to agree, was WAY too bright), but the man’s vehemence in the middle of the crowd’s cheering made everybody wonder what was going on, Cohen included. “I thought a war had started,” the Israeli native told us, laughing nervously.
No wars in the Swyer Theatre, thankfully – not on this night, anyway. Instead, we got to see Anat Cohen (one of the best young players of her generation) walk out onstage with three contemporaries and do nothing but play her head off and have big fun, and do it while excelling on tenor sax, soprano sax and clarinet. The evening was originally slated as a twin bill with another young lion, pianist Gerald Clayton, but he was in no way missed.
“All right then,” she said off-mic to her compatriots as they got behind their instruments. “Let’s hit the road.” And hit it they did, jumping into pianist Jason Lindner’s odd-metered original “Anat’s Dance.” Although both Lindner’s meter and his solo attack was purely modern, the piece’s vibe reeked of the Old School, a feeling heightened by the deadly bebop background laid down by drummer Daniel Freedman. Cohen stood center stage, her clarinet plugged into the sound system via a long thin wire, and blew us all away with wave upon wave of peerless expression. The system left her free from having to play to a standard mic, which allowed her to let the music move her any way it wanted. Some dancing was indeed involved (on this and other numbers), but mostly we saw the physical manifestation of what it feels like to not only hear something absolutely glorious, but also be a part of its creation.
I first heard Avitel on a trio disc with Anat’s trumpet-playing brother Avishai Cohen (who will be at the Egg next month with SFJAZZ Collective), and I couldn’t believe the levels of innovation he reached. He matched those levels multiple times over the course of this set, but he also was able to grab the moment by the mojo: His in-the-clear opening to “Everything” had Anat grinning widely. (“Funk it up,” she enthused, cheering him on.) He also went as low on the neck as he could go during Abdullah Ibrahim’s “The Wedding” and still maintained an Orca-fat tone while hitting some of the highest notes you’ll ever hear a bassist play. Lindner’s abilities – which are readily available on his own bevy of solo projects, most notably the Jason Lindner Big Band – approach the stratospheric, with an affinity for both free-style madness and down-and-dirty boogie. Freedman can bring the cascading noise with the best of them, but his best moments on Sunday were his quietest moments, particularly his hand-drumming on a short, soft samba whose title Cohen devilishly chose not to translate for those of us who don’t speak Portuguese.
The 90-minute set ran the gamut of Cohen’s recording career, but also included Freedman’s fiery multi-chapter original “All Brothers,” which will appear on a new Cohen release later this year. (“We dedicate this to kindness, world peace, caring and sharing,” she told us.) The band took us to the streets of Havana with Ernesto Lecuona, and then brought us back to New York City for a jazzed-out mash-up of the doo-wop classic “Searchin.’” (“You guys remember the Coasters!” she said happily after someone in the audience identified the song.) Cohen moved easily between all three of her instruments, but while she excelled at all of them, her work on tenor sax interested me the most: Her forays offered plenty of rippling muscle while maintaining her technical sharpness. Other than Erica Lindsey, I’m stumped when I try to think of another female sax player who features the tenor on a regular basis, and I wish younger players like Sharel Cassity would work it into their arsenal.
Cohen preceded the closer with a long re-introduction of “the people who inspire me”, highlighting her band members’ own projects and directing us to check out their respective web sites. Plenty of musicians enjoy playing with each other, but the way Cohen feeds off her band (and the way they feed off of her) is as much of a knock-out as the music itself. It’s rare to see one musician in his or her prime, and we got to see four of them on this night, playing the kind of jazz that acknowledges the past but makes no bones about making its own way in this modern world. Jazz2K, baby! It’s out there, and the Anat Cohen Quartet brought it to the Swyer last Sunday night.
Excerpt from Brian McElhiney’s review at The Daily Gazette: “The best was yet to come though, with a long version of Ernesto Lecuona’s ‘Siboney,’ which stretched each player to the limits. As Freedman held down the song’s swinging rhythms, Cohen switched back and forth between her clarinet and saxophones, slowly building to a solo moment that featured some of her finest playing of the evening. When the rest of the band returned for the song’s climax, the crowd went nuts. They followed this with a fun and funky version of the Coasters’ ‘Searchin,” a nice reprieve after the epic jamming on ‘Siboney.’ But even with the comparatively simpler composition, the band still managed to pull out a nuanced and complicated (in the best way) performance.”