Clarinetist-saxophonist Anat Cohen has won hearts and minds the world over with her expressive virtuosity and delightful stage presence. Reviewing one of Anat’s headlining sets with her quartet at the North See Jazz Festival, DownBeat said: “Cohen not only proved to be a woodwind revelation of dark tones and delicious lyricism, but also a dynamic bandleader who danced and shouted out encouragement to her group – whooping it up when pianist Jason Lindner followed her clarinet trills on a Latin-flavored number. . . With her dark, curly, shoulder-length hair swaying to the beat as she danced, she was a picture of joy.”
The Jazz Journalists Association has voted Anat as Clarinetist of the Year nine years in a row, and she has topped both the Critics and Readers Polls in the clarinet category in DownBeat magazine every year since 2011. That’s not to mention years of being named Rising Star in the soprano and tenor saxophone categories in DownBeat, as well as for Jazz Artist of the Year. In 2009, ASCAP awarded Anat a Wall of Fame prize for composition and musicianship, among other honors. Earning this acclaim, Anat has toured the world with her quartet, headlining at the Newport, Umbria, SF Jazz and North Sea jazz festivals as well as at such hallowed clubs as New York’s Village Vanguard and at Columbia University’s prestigious Miller Theatre. In March 2015, Anzic Records releases Luminosa, her seventh album as a bandleader. Luminosa sees Anat play singing, dancing originals, interpret Brazilian classics by the likes of Milton Nascimento, and even re-imagine electronica as acoustica with an ingenious arrangement of a Flying Lotus tune. Members from Anat’s touring quartet – keyboardist Jason Lindner, bassist Joe Martin, drummer Daniel Freedman – appear on the album, as do guest guitarists Romero Lubambo and Gilad Hekselman, percussionist Gilmar Gomes and the Brazilian players of her new band Choro Aventuroso.
Luminosa encapsulates the description Jazz Police offered of Anat in full flight: “She becomes a singer, a poet, a mad scientist, laughing – musically – with the delight of reaching that new place, that new feeling, with each chorus.” Along with interpreting several Brazilian numbers – two choro pieces and a trio of Nascimento songs – the album features multiple originals by Anat, including compositional tributes to Brazilian guitar great Baden Powell and the inspirational founder of the Newport Jazz Festival, George Wein. “The sound of Luminosa reflects my musical life in New York City,” she explains. “I flow between modern and traditional jazz, between samba and choro – all maybe in a week’s time. The title is Portuguese for luminous – something shining, especially in the dark. To me, music is a luminous experience. Whenever I’m immersed in it, life lights up for me, no matter what else is going on.”
The new Luminosa follows Anat’s acclaimed Anzic release from 2012, Claroscuro, which takes its title from the Spanish word describing the play of light and shade (chiaroscuro in Italian). The album showcased Anat’s fluency in a global set of styles, from creolized New Orleans chanson and the evergreen swing of an Artie Shaw tune to African grooves and Brazilian choro, samba and more. Playing clarinet, bass clarinet and tenor and soprano saxophones, she was joined in the studio by her quartet, plus such special guests as trombonist/vocalist Wycliffe Gordon and star clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera. Reflecting on the naturally communicative, one-take spontaneity of the album, Anat said: “I was playing with some of my favorite musicians in the world, and we all speak a common language, no matter where we come from.” DownBeat gave Claroscuro four-and-a-half stars out of five, praising its “effervescence” and “deeply resonant” qualities, with the review concluding that “this multifaceted woodwind player only gets better.” Also taken by the record’s ebullient, irresistible variety, All About Jazz declared about Anat: “She’s one of a kind.”
Anat was born in Tel Aviv, Israel, and raised into a musical family. She attended the Tel Aviv School for the Arts, the "Thelma Yellin" High School for the Arts and the Jaffa Music Conservatory. Jazz captured the youngster’s imagination, and she thrilled to recordings by Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet, Benny Goodman and Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. Anat began clarinet studies at age 12 and played jazz on clarinet for the first time in the Jaffa Conservatory’s Dixieland band. At 16, she joined the school’s big band and learned to play the tenor saxophone; it was this same year that Anat entered the prestigious “Thelma Yellin” school, where she majored in jazz. After graduation, she discharged her mandatory Israeli military service duty from 1993-95, playing tenor saxophone in the Israeli Air Force band.
Through the World Scholarship Tour, Anat was able to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she not only honed her jazz chops but also expanded her musical horizons, developing a deep love and facility for various Latin music styles. Fellow Berklee students who hailed from Latin and South American countries were inspirational for the young musician: “Hearing them play the samba of Brazil, chacarrera of Argentina and cumbia of Colombia, I loved those rhythms immediately and was drawn to playing them myself,” Anat says. “The flowing Latin rhythms opened up a whole world of groove to me – and added new layers of expressivity in my jazz playing.” During her Berklee years, Anat visited New York City during semester breaks, making a beeline for the West Village club Smalls to soak up a melting pot of jazz, contemporary grooves and world music in a scene that included such future collaborators as Jason Lindner, Omer Avital and Daniel Freedman. Back in Boston, she played in myriad contexts and bands, including Afro-Cuban, Argentinean, klezmer, contemporary Brazilian music and classic Brazilian choro.
Moving to New York in 1999 after graduating from Berklee, Anat spent a decade touring with Sherrie Maricle’s all-woman big band, The Diva Jazz Orchestra; she also worked in such Brazilian groups as the Choro Ensemble and Duduka Da Fonseca’s Samba Jazz Quintet, along with performing the music of Louis Armstrong with David Ostwald’s “Gully Low Jazz Band.” Anat soon began to bend ears and turn heads; whether playing clarinet, soprano saxophone or tenor saxophone, she won over the most knowing of jazz sages: Nat Hentoff praised her “bursting sound and infectious beat,” Dan Morgenstern her “gutsy, swinging” style, Ira Gitler her “liquid dexterity and authentic feeling,” and Gary Giddins her musicality “that bristles with invention.”
Establishing her own Anzic Records label in 2005, Anat kicked off her discography as a bandleader with Place & Time, a small-combo session of mostly original tunes that was named one of the year’s best debuts by All About Jazz. Her two ambitious releases of 2007 – Noir (presenting Anat with a jazz orchestra) and Poetica (a chamber-jazz feature for her clarinet) – led The New York Times to enthuse over her “warm, singing tone.” Beautifully arranged by Oded Lev-Ari, Noir saw Anat front a large ensemble in numbers from “Cry Me a River” to a medley of “Samba de Orfeu” / “Strutting with Some Barbecue” to the Sun Ra ballad “You Never Told Me That You Care.” Poetica drew from a world of music – popular melodies from Israel, a Jacques Brel song and John Coltrane’s “Lonnie’s Lament,” with a mix of jazz quartet settings and pieces arranged for Anat with string quartet by Omer Avital. Both albums appeared on many year-end best of 2007 lists, including those of JazzTimes, Slate and Paste magazines. The Village Voice spoke of Anat’s “enviable insouciance” and how “she alludes to the mystical in a merry way,” while DownBeat declared: “Noir could be a classic” and added that Anat’s “unforced elegance on clarinet could take her to the top.” The Washington Post said: “Cohen has emerged as one of the brightest, most original young instrumentalists in jazz. . . with a distinctive accent of her own.”
Anat’s 2008 release, Notes from the Village, was a showcase for her multi-reed talents in quartet and quintet settings, with the album featuring such original Cohen compositions as the one-world tribal dance “Washington Square Park” and sweetly, gorgeously playful “Lullaby for the Naïve Ones” alongside interpretations that again reflect the leader’s wide enthusiasms – from Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” and John Coltrane’s “After the Rain” to Ernesto Lecuona’s “Siboney” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” In its review, The New York Times said: “Notes From The Village is a resounding confirmation – yes, she is the real deal.” DownBeat awarded the album four stars, stating that “Cohen makes it seem easy, mixing a gift for melody with an improvisational fluidity that has few peers today.” And All Music Guide pointed out: “What makes Cohen’s music so special, aside from the high level of musicianship, is her fertile imagination. Through all of her efforts as a leader, there's hardly a speck of filler, but rather a wealth of ideas and the desire to expand the purview of her instrument beyond putative traditional swing.”
In 2009, Anat became the first Israeli to headline at the Village Vanguard, the setting for perhaps the most celebrated live recordings in jazz history; the occasion yielded the 2010 release Clarinetwork: Live at the Village Vanguard, which captured the leader paying tribute to Benny Goodman and leading a hard-swinging combo with all-stars Benny Green, Peter Washington and Lewis Nash. Calling Anat “one to watch,” National Public Radio underscored the contemporary approach the group took to the Goodman book: “Cohen and company treat 1920s and ‘30s material with a relatively free hand; when they get rolling in `Sweet Georgia Brown,’ her rhythm section echoes the thunder of John Coltrane’s quartet.” In its glowing review, All About Jazz singled out the performance of “St. James Infirmary,” saying: “Cohen reaches a state of musical ecstasy. . . as her clarinet moans, sighs, soars and wails with passion and emotion.”
Anat has also recorded four acclaimed albums as part of the 3 Cohens Sextet with her brothers, saxophonist Yuval and trumpeter Avishai: 2003’s One, 2007’s Braid, 2011’s Family and 2013’s Tightrope (with the last three released by Anzic). Declared All About Jazz: “To the ranks of the Heaths of Philadelphia, the Joneses of Detroit and the Marsalises of New Orleans, fans can now add the 3 Cohens of Tel Aviv.” The 3 Cohens band has toured from across the U.S. and Europe to Brazil and Australia, including headlining the Village Vanguard and Carnegie’s Zankel Hall. The three siblings – with Anat the middle child to the elder Yuval and younger Avishai – graced the cover of the January 2012 issue of DownBeat, and among the international acclaim for the recent Tightrope was the Financial Times marveling over its “emotional sweep.” The album features the 3 Cohens improvising as an a cappella horn choir as well as teaming with such special guests as Fred Hersch and Christian McBride. About the special rapport she has with her brothers, Anat says: “We can talk without talking. Often, we don't even have to look at each other onstage. We have such history together that we feel each other through the music.”
Several recordings by the Choro Ensemble feature Anat’s clarinet as a key solo voice, including the 2007 Anzic album Nosso Tempo. She has added solos to albums by guitarist Howard Alden (I Remember Django), drummer Teri Lynne Carrington (The Mosaic Project), singer Ann Hampton Callaway (Blues in the Night), percussionist Cyro Baptista (Beat the Donkey and Infinito), trombonist-vocalist Wycliffe Gordon (Hello, Pops!), singer Lila Downs (Shake Away/Ojo de Culebra), pianist Jason Lindner (Now vs. Now and Live at the Jazz Gallery, both on Anzic), the Duduka Da Fonseca Quintet (Samba Jazz in Black and White), Sherrie Merricle’s Diva Jazz Orchestra (Live in Concert), pianist Jovino Santos Neto (Veja o Som), singer Amy Cervini (Digging You, Digging Me: A Tribute to Blossom Dearie and Jazz Country, both Anzic) and singer Melissa Stylianou (Silent Movie and No Regrets, both Anzic), among many others. With Anat as executive producer, Anzic has also released albums by the 3 Cohens, Avishai Cohen, Yuval Cohen, Third World Love, Duchess, Hilary Gardner, Joel Frahm, Joe Martin, Omer Avital, Daniel Freedman, Eli Degibri, Duduka Da Fonseca, Ernesto Cervini and the Waverly Seven.
Anat collaborates regularly with one of her heroes, Cuban-American clarinetist-saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera, who introduced her onstage at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in the Jazz at Lincoln Center complex as “one of the greatest players ever of the clarinet.” Having first appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2007, she had the honor of being the music director for the Newport Jazz Festival Now 60! all-star band that toured the U.S. on the occasion of the festival’s 60th anniversary in 2014. Anat is a fixture on the New York scene at such clubs as Birdland, starring in a recent tribute to the music of Django Reinhardt there, among much else. Anat has also appeared in New York at the Village Vanguard, Jazz Standard, Blue Note, Iridium, Joe’s Pub, Greenwich House and the Jazz Gallery, as well as other top clubs across the country and around the world – Yoshi’s in San Francisco, Blues Alley in Washington, D.C., Regatta Bar in Boston, the Sunset in Paris, Bimhuis in Amsterdam, Jazzclub Fasching in Stockholm, A Trane in Berlin and Zappa in Tel Aviv. She has performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and Symphony Space in New York, along with Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center, Newark’s New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Boston’s Berklee Performance Center, the ORF-Kulturhaus in Vienna and Belgrade’s Kolarac Hall in Serbia.
The world’s great jazz festivals have invited Anat to perform, including the JVC, Newport, Chicago, Monterey, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage, SF Jazz (San Francisco), Playboy (Los Angeles), Duke Ellington (Washington, D.C.), Montreal, Copenhagen, Jazz a Vienne, Umbria, North Sea (Netherlands), Tudo e Jazz (Brazil), Caesaria (Israel) and Zagreb Jazzarella festivals. Her performances have been broadcast internationally, including by WBGO, WFUV, WNYC and NPR in the U.S. and Radio Netherlands, ORF (Austrian Radio), SR (Swedish Radio) and Radio Bremen (Germany).
As the Chicago Tribune says about Anat, “The lyric beauty of her tone, easy fluidity of her technique and extroverted manner of her delivery make this music accessible to all.” Leading up to the March 17, 2015, release of Luminosa and beyond, Anat will be bringing her charismatic stage performances again to music lovers around the globe, including a five-night March 4-8 stand at New York City’s Jazz Standard. She says: “Any day when I get to share music with people – other musicians, an audience – feels like a celebration to me.”
— Bradley Bambarger