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 Wednesday, 25 November 2015
“Claroscuro”: The Many Shades (and Vibrant Colors) of Anat Cohen PDF Print
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   
Thursday, 04 October 2012


"When you share music with people - your fellow musicians or an audience - it should always be a celebration. That doesn't mean the music won't sometimes be intense or heartbreaking. But making music with people for people, that is a gift. And there should always be joy in a gift." –Anat Cohen


Even a few weeks before her new recording was released, Anat Cohen had earned the #1 ranking for clarinet in Downbeat’s Critics poll and graced the cover of Jazz Times’ “Women’s Issue” (September 2012). The spotlight was already well earned; Claroscuro (Anzic), however, serves as confirmation that Cohen’s talents warrant gender-neutral evaluation. In the largely male-dominated universe of instrumental jazz, Anat Cohen challenges those stereotypes with every note.


The Israeli-born Cohen chose the unusual title for her sixth album from an Italian term (“chiaroscuro”) meaning “light/dark”—the tonal contrasts that give paintings a feeling of depth, reflecting what Anat describes as the musical contrasts between “buoyant and joyous” and “multilayered and intense.” “Claroscuro” is the Spanish version of the word. And aside from the obvious reference to her main instrument, “claroscuro” indeed describes the range of mood and color that Cohen and her cohorts (her working quartet of pianist Jason Lindner, bassist Joe Martin and drummer Daniel Freedman, with special guests Paquito D’Rivera, Wycliffe Gordon, and Gilmer Gomes) bring to eleven tracks that cover the world from New Orleans to New York to Brazil to Africa, and celebrate composers from Artie Shaw and Lonnie Smith to Jobim and Nasciemento, and the musicians themselves.


ImageLindner’s “Anat’s Dance” opens the album with a dark piano vamp; Anat slides through an airy if slippery melody, across ascending and descending arpeggios, inserting quick comments along the way. Drummer Freedman’s “All Brothers” gets its folkloric, North African feel from Cohen’s soprano sax and Lindner’s prepared piano, which takes on the sound of a kora or thumb piano. Notes Cohen, “The way the sound takes us back to the place where we'll all from, it doesn't seem like just music. I feel like I'm delivering a message when I play it. And the message is that we're all in this together."

On her own “Kickoff,” Anat’s bass clarinet engages Paquito D’Rivera’s clarinet in a mesmerizing “light and dark” duel, with Gilmar Gomes adding Latin percussion. A drum duet echoes the horn partnership as this short track seamlessly opens into the bright dance of Pixinguinha’s “Um a Zero.” One of several tracks composed by Brazilian artists, this choro features another spinning duet among the two clarinets, a sure-fire invitation to dance. Other nods to Brazil include Cortola’s “As Rosas Nao Falum,” with its beautiful tango-ish solo clarinet and bass; Nasciemento’s celebratory “Tudo Que Vocȇ Podia Ser,” where Anat melds soprano sax with bouncy basslines, Lindner shifting the mood toward a more majestic calling; and the more melancholy, elegant reading of Jobim’s “Olha Maria” with Lindner stitching lines between the spaces that Cohen opens in the melody, while Martin’s bowed and plucked bass paints a dark background to catch that play of light.

Cohen and company, with trombonist/vocalist Wycliffe Gordon on board, give Piaf’s classic “La Vie En Rose” perhaps its swingingest version yet. Gordon’s swaying trombone adds a unique, old-time sound while forming a regal partnership with Cohen’s clarinet. Lindner’s rolling arpeggios add drama while Cohen adds a klezmer sheen, all answered by Gordon’s snarls—elegance versus playfulness. Gordon’s vocal, like a smoothed-over Louie, is an extra treat here.

Three more covers fill out the album. Two clarinets face off on Artie Shaw’s “Nightmare” in a songful, minor key journey supported by luxurious bass, while Gordon returns with a most entertaining trombone on Dr. Lonnie Smith’s “And the World Weeps.” While Gordon taunts with snarls and growls; D’Rivera and Cohen (clarinets) create delicate and dark harmonies, and Freedman keeping up a steady vamp—it’s NOLA gone global. Abdullah Ibrahim’s “The Wedding” recreates the majesty of South African rhythms and harmonies, as well as the spirit of Americana—a sort of Ray Charles Meets Ibrahim. Focusing more energy recently on tenor sax, Anat reminds us here that this world class clarinetist is also a formidable talent on the big horn.


In defining Anat Cohen’s status as a composer, bandleader and performer, there’s no fuzzy shades of gray here. On Claroscuro, she makes a definitive statement of everywhere she’s been, and everywhere she’s going. And there’s no limit to the joy in her gift.

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