Friday, July 10, 2009

Anat Cohen's Clarinetwork — "Benny Goodman and Beyond" at the Village Vanguard

Seeing Anat Cohen at the Village Vanguard was possibly the best thing we did in New York City. We hadn't heard of Anat Cohen — I just thought we should go to the Village Vanguard to make the visit complete. But now she's my favorite clarinetist.

[UPDATE: You can listen to one of the concerts from that week here. Click the two songs under the heading "Hear the Music." It's also been released as an album.]

You can listen to her play at the Village Vanguard last year here. The first song (Fats Wallers' "Jitterbug Waltz") will give you a feel for what last weekend's show was like.

I love this niche: taking a decidedly non-modern musical idiom and reviving it for the present day. It's probably harder than it sounds. You don't want to be too tame and old-fashioned. You need to bring your own personality to the music, make it sound newly relevant. But you also can't be too self-conscious or heavy-handed about it. Anat Cohen's quartet got the balance just right.

We sat through 2 back-to-back sets — about 3 hours of instrumental music — and I don't think we were ever bored. The whole experience simultaneously felt "larger than life" and yet more intimate than I had expected (even though I was familiar with the venue). She seemed constantly excited about the music, even when she wasn't playing. She was never just standing around waiting for her solo — she was always dancing or grinning or something.

As a bonus, the drummer, Lewis Nash, did a perfect wordless vocal solo that sounded like a saxophone.

I realize I haven't said much about the rest of her excellent band, but here's a whole blog post focusing on the pianist's performance. (That post is about one of the earlier concerts in her 6-night series at the Vanguard.)

She mentioned that they were recording the second set. I don't know if it was for an album. But if they do release a "Benny Goodman and Beyond" album from the Village Vanguard, definitely buy it!

She also composes, plays tenor and soprano saxophone, and is fluent in genres from around the world. (She said in an interview, describing her experience at Berklee College of Music, "I came to understand when a chart says 'Latin' on top it means almost nothing. You need to know if the music is from the northeast of Brazil, the west coast of Colombia, or someplace else on the continent. I was inspired to explore world music, starting with the music of South America, in detail.") Appropriately enough, none of these facets were on display when we saw her. She has a multitude of talent but also good taste about when to use it.

Here's another sample of her music, though quite different from the show we saw — playing with the popular singer/guitarist John Pizzarelli:


Kev said...

I'm glad you got to see the Vanguard while you were in NYC. To a jazz musician like myself, NYC is hallowed ground, and the Vanguard is one of its most sacred temples. I have many, many recordings that are subtitled "Live at the Village Vanguard," and it was an amazing experience to realize that all those people were on the same stage that I was observing at the time.

My visit there, in early '07, was to see an excellent leaderless trio called Fly. I posted a picture of the famous red awning here.

BTW, I couldn't get the link to Anat's playing to work; it just directed me to lot into Blogger--which I already was--again and again.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Sorry about the video, and thanks for the heads-up... Someone else privately told me the same thing, but I tested it on my computer and it worked, so I thought it might be specific to his computer or browser. (It's working for me in two different browsers.) I'll add a note that it might not work.

I hadn't heard of Fly -- I'll have to check them out. I saw their bassist, Larry Grenadier, at the same place -- playing with Brad Mehldau. They seem like they'll be up my alley, since I love the format of bass + drums + just one lead instrument for a jazz combo.

Daniel Fielding said...

JAC: Anat's brother Avishai is also a great musician. Check him out.

Kev said...

Actually, in an odd quirk, there are two Avishai Cohens worth checking out: The one Daniel is referring to, Anat's brother, is a trumpeter, while the other one is a rather amazing bass player who's worked with Chick Corea, among others. (And I assume neither is any relation to our bloghost...)

John Althouse Cohen said...

I noticed the Avishai Cohen problem. I have 2 albums by theAvishai Cohen Trio, which is led by the bassist (the Avishai Cohen who's not Anat's brother). I particularly recommend the album called Gently Disturbed, from last year. I haven't heard the other Avishai Cohen, though we considered seeing the "3 Cohens," who were finishing their string of sets at the Village Vanguard around the time we arrived in NYC.

And yeah, none of them have any relation to me. They're all Israeli.