Anat Cohen Tentet Brings Retro Sound and Ebullient Spirit to Jazz Standard


Anat Cohen (third from left, with clarinet) leads her tentet at the Jazz Standard in New York on April 19

(Photo: Erik Braund)

Listening to clarinetist Anat Cohen and her new tentet perform original material at the Jazz Standard on April 19 was like being a guest at a secret soiree, where the sense of fun is contagious and swing is seriously the thing.

While jazz prognosticators, publicists and journalists often kvetch and wring their hands over the state of the art, Cohen and Anzic Records producer Oded Lev-Ari let their music convince any doubters, the largish group peeling back the page to an era when jazz’s popularity wasn’t in doubt, and when shaking your backside was perhaps more important than evaluating the soloist.

Cohen’s tentet is comprised of music director Lev-Ari, cellist Rubin Kodheli, trumpeter Nadje Noordhuis, trombonist Nick Finzer, baritone saxophonist Owen Broder, vibraphonist/percussionist James Shipp, pianist/accordionist Vitor Gonçalves, guitarist Sheryl Bailey, bassist/guitarist Tal Mashiach and drummer Anthony Pinciotti. While some of these musicians are fresh arrivals to the New York scene (at least to this writer), the assembled group performed like a well-oiled, madly swinging groove machine, making you half expect to see Artie Shaw or Benny Goodman entering the Jazz Standard stage-right.

Cohen’s group is also relatively fresh to the performance stage; having played a five-day workshop at Brooklyn’s Shapeshifter Lab in March, they will hit the Newport stage this coming July. The tentet plans to enter the recording studio in the fall for a hopeful late 2016/early 2017 release.

From the first note, Cohen made clear her intent to play, and she rarely stopped playing for the entire set. Standing as if to direct the tentet by body language, Cohen wove her warm, woody sound throughout every song, often blowing streams of winding segue notes between numbers. Playing a snippet of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue,” she set the night’s tone: a time-traveling trip to the swing era, with a smattering of Brazilian, klezmer, Israeli and even rock-effected sounds mixed in.

The feel-good hoedown of Lev-Ari’s “Trills & Thrills Part I” kicked off the happy jazz marathon; Cohen’s solo was followed round-robin by a horn section soli, a piano solo and an accordion solo. Hints of Israeli folk and “King Porter Stomp” rounded out the comfort food opener.

Cohen’s “Happy Song” was next, the appropriately named ditty sending the audience into a near frenzy of dance floor fun. Again, Cohen soloed up an Artie Shaw-inspired storm, her obvious glee in relaying this simple but powerful music evident in every note. Trombone and trumpet traded 16-bar solos, but as in most of the night’s material, Cohen dominated the solo space.

“Valsa Para Alice” recalled a moody tango of sorts, its dramatic melody fully explored by Cohen’s passionate, mournful and emotional solo. If she played no other solo for the night, this one was proof of her mastery of the instrument and her ability to connect with listeners on an intellectual and emotional level. She’s a force of clarinet wizardry that is at once technically impressive and heartfelt, a dazzling instrumentalist who connects with the soul. Cello and accordion solos followed.

The Benny Goodman-popularized “Oh Baby” was next, followed by the Israeli tradition-infused “Anat’s Donia” and a shimmering, shaking take on Egberto Gismonti’s “Loro.” The set closed with “Trills & Thrills Part II,” and an encore composition from Souleymane Traoré, aka Neba Solo, a West African balafon player from Mali. As with all the evening’s music, the tentet performed the Neba Solo selection with an earnest groove and conversational solos.

Anat Cohen’s tentet is a promising ensemble that plays as a single sturdy organism led by the clarinetist’s luminous soloing and jubilant stage presence. She’s filled her band with equally vivid and distinctive soloists, whose respective accordion, drums, vibraphone and electric guitar outpourings were uniformly novel. Wrap Cohen’s compositional consistency and the collective’s instrumental prowess in a veneer of 1940s-era swing and you’ve got amusement for all ages.

“We designed the program with the intent of creating an engaging, evocative musical experience centered around the clarinet and our musical worlds,” Lev-Ari wrote via email. “Naturally, swing is a major part of this, as are Brazilian Folk, klezmer, African and our own compositions. [We’re] not sure what the recording approach will be; we know we want to preserve the live show feel.”

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