LIVE: The Anat Cohen Quartet @ A Place for Jazz, 11/2/18

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Anat Cohen

Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu

The end-of-season concert at A Place For Jazz is always special. Aside from the now-traditional middle-school jazz band halftime show and the unspoken “last chance” to see your concert friends before they all go into hibernation for the winter, APFJ President Tim Coakley and his Band of Jazzers always seems to save the sweetest, juiciest concert for last. This time around, they brought in reed monster Anat Cohen, who went with the “very special” vibe by bringing a “special, one-time-only” band of fellow Brooklynites with her, and they spent two sets hitting home runs like the borough’s former top sports team.

Cohen’s played Greater Nippertown multiple times in multiple configurations, but mostly she’s made beautiful music with keyboardist Jason Lindner, bassist Joe Martin, and drummer/percussionist Daniel Freedman. As much as I love that group and the thrilling sounds it creates, Cohen kinda-sorta went into a new bag at APFJ by bringing along guitarist Gilad Hekselman, bassist Or Barekat and drummer Adam Cruz. She was still as wondrous as she usually is, but without Lindner’s keyboards to smooth out any rough spots, both the music and the groove had an extra layer of muscle and a Vibranium spine.

Things started softly with Cohen in the clear, blowing her echoing clarinet to the top of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Schenectady’s Whisperdome; Cruz snuck in behind her on shells and rims while Hekselman sent one pulsing note sailing around the room. Barekat picked up the groove Cruz had been hinting at, and we were off into Cohen’s “Happy Song.” Among the multiple releases Cohen has been involved with this year is a big-band date with “Happy Song” as the title track; the APFJ version was much closer to the one heard on Cohen’s 2015 Anzic disc Luminosa, though the band config forced the arrangement to be a little tighter. No big deal, because less is so much more with Hekselman, whose reverb-tinged offerings had Cohen smiling, laughing and whooping throughout the night. Cohen followed “Happy” with “Purple Peace,” a slow, romantic waltz that came with a saucy vibe straight out of a Chicago speakeasy.

Cohen is a hella great composer, but it’s her interpretations of other people’s material that seem to rise above everything else. Duke Ellington’s “Ishfahan” was a soft, sweet blues that went beyond the technical thanks to Hekselman’s transcendent guitar, Cohen’s glowing soprano sax and Barekat’s fat bass lines; in the middle of the piece, the band stopped dead, only to start again after Gilad dropped a fast glissando on us. Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” let Cohen and the boys have fun with time signatures after Cruz built a storming drum solo from the ground up. Anat indulged her love of Brazilian music with a scintillating take on Baden Powell’s “Two Voices”, and while Cohen insisted her closing number was the Great American Songbook chestnut “After You’ve Gone,” the only recognizable thing was the rhythm Cruz and Barekat laid down, and everything else was Cohen and Hekselman creations.

Hekselman’s appearance was a delightful bonus for me, because the Israeli guitarist’s latest Motema release Ask For Chaos is in the running for one of 2018’s top ten discs. A fact of life for many years now, Hekselman is really coming into his own as one of the most inventive, expressive guitarists on the menu, and that spirit & energy had a lot of people mimicking Cohen’s ear-to-ear grin. Gilad did add spine and muscle to the music, but he also contributed the same kind of nuance Lindner would have brought to the proceedings, particularly on Hekselman’s own thoughtful composition “It Will Get Better.”

Barekat may have only been on the scene a relatively short time, but he’s already left a mark with his 2017 Fresh Sound New Talent disc OB1 and a slew of sideman gigs, and he brought lyricism and resonance to whatever he touched here. Daniel Freedman is one of my favorite percussionists of all time, but while Cruz doesn’t have the World Beat vibe Freedman uses to take Cohen’s music in non-traditional directions, the foundation Cruz laid down for every piece was unquestionably fine, and he was able to display his own sense of lyric when the occasion called for it.

The Whisperdome was packed for this show despite a bevy of alternatives, and Cohen was secure enough to list a few: Rachel Z was part of Scott Petiti’s divine Joni Mitchell tribute at the Van Dyck, while Peter Bernstein was bringing hollow-body beauty to Zankel Music Center. “There’s nothing left in New York City,” Cohen laughed. As cool as those gigs might have been, though, this one-off quartet Anat Cohen brought upstate was the only choice I could make, because I knew it would be as special as it turned out to be, and as special as the closing night of A Place For Jazz season is supposed to be.

The Anat Cohen Quartet
Gilad Hekelsman
Or Bareket
Adam Cruz
Anat Cohen and Adam Cruz
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