There’s a movement (so to speak) of Israeli jazz musicians in New York, and clarinetist/saxophonist Anat Cohen is at the forefront of it: in addition to the instruments, she’s a prolific composer and owner of her own label (Anzic Records). All this meant she would be a formidable presence at the National Museum of Women in the Arts last night, but concertgoers actually ended up awestruck.
The concert featured Cohen’s quartet (pianist Jason Lindner, bassist Joe Martin, drummer Daniel Freedman) performing songs from her just-released Notes from the Village album. Alternating between her two axes, Cohen portrayed her different styles on each: the clarinet on Fats Waller‘s “Jitterbug Waltz” was gleeful, relaxed, and rhythmically agile, but always with a hint of gravitas below the surface; on tenor sax (“J Blues”) she exerted a surprising amount of muscle, but was more intent on a strident conversational sound. The band stood her in good stead, too, particularly Lindner (whose big band album Live at the Jazz Gallery was by far the best of 2007). He veered from dreamy cascades on “Jitterbug Waltz” to sharp but wistful blues on “Until You’re In Love Again,” and even plucked the strings in a good impression of African mbira on “Washington Square Park.”
The extraordinary moment, however, came on the final song, the Cuban standard “Siboney”—when Cohen invited DEJF musical director Paquito d’Rivera to join her onstage. “He’s the reason I play clarinet,” she explained. “So, thanks dude.” Together they launched into a duet that became more of a mighty showdown: he played light, sprightly and high; she played mid-range, somewhat slower, and always with that somber edge. Their playing was a tangled network of calls-and-responses, thrust-and-parry, harmonies, unisons, counterpoints, and even a few setups and punchlines.
“Well,” said the emcee after the performance ended. “That was sort of unforgettable.” He was putting it mildly.