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Anat Cohen Quartet, 5 December 2010

Anthony Dean-Harris
anthony.deanharris[at]nextbop[dot]com / @retronius

Originally written for and published in African-American Reflections

Much has been said as of late about the surge of Israeli jazz musicians rising to prominence. Anyone who was at the Jo Long Theater of the Carver Community Cultural Center this past December 5 would clearly understand why. Clarinetist Anat Cohen, on tour for her latest album Clarinetwork: Live at the Village Vanguard, performed a spectacular set with her quartet including Benny Green on piano, Peter Washington on bass, and Lewis Nash on drums.

The intimate feel of the concert may have helped matters. It felt like a true community of San Antonio jazz lovers, grooving together, tapping their feet and bobbing their heads.

The evening began with the jazz standard, “Sweet Georgia Brown,” which served as a kind of introduction to the group dynamic. Every member of the quartet was given time to solo and the audience had the opportunity to see how the each musicians styles melded together.

It didn’t take long for veteran drummer Lewis Nash to wow the crowd, doing as a drummer does and keeping the beat but not making it seem at all mechanical. Nash clearly understands his drum set, knowing how each drum/stick or brush combo creates its own notes to make a contribution to the trio that means so much more than working as a timekeeper. Even when the crowd thought Nash couldn’t impress them more, he would make another turn to lift things up to another level (including scatting, a very underappreciated form when done correctly). It would seem at times as though this was Nash’s show and everyone else on stage was there for accents, but this isn’t to diminish the rest of the band at all.

Throughout many selections during the evening, it was apparent that these were well-contemplated arrangements. The group has the capacity to stop and start on a dime but each had the freedom to breathe through his or her solos. This group very clearly listens to one another.

As the evening progressed, the nuances of each musicians’ styles became more apparent. Benny Green combines notes on the piano in a way people could never put together themselves, but it all makes sense all the same. His style almost implies, as a colleague of mine said that evening, it’s as if “the success of the concert hinges on what [he] plays next.” His frenetic picking at the keys seems akin to entering nuclear launch codes, creating an explosion of wild, pleasing but still cacophonous sounds.

Cohen wields her clarinet with an absolute adeptness, there’s a certain precision to her craft but it’s portrayed in such a casual style. (I sweat, there was a point when she played a run of notes and adjusted her hair at the same time, and not quickly.) While she played masterfully, it’s watching her sway to the music she made that tied the whole performance together. She is an inimitable force to be admired.

Ultimately, the Anat Cohen concert at the Carver was not an evening to miss. The genres and inspirations provided something for everyone who loves jazz, from the works from the works of Benny Goodman to Brazilian tunes to touches of hip-hop beats. The moderately sized crowd was more than open to the flavor of the evening. It’s a testament to why jazz seems to keep looking to Israel lately.