Israeli clarinetist Anat Cohen sparkles on ‘Claroscuro’
The clarinet went so hopelessly out of fashion in jazz after the swing era it was anybody’s guess when it would make a comeback. Don Byron gained the first major yardage, but the soulful, ebullient Israeli musician Anat Cohen has scored a touchdown. Perhaps because of her international background, Cohen takes jazz as part of a great continuum of rhythm- and blues-driven world musics, so she’s equally comfy wailing like a siren on a New Orleans funeral dirge (“And the World Weeps”), slinking modally over a Middle Eastern vamp (“Kick Off”), waxing spiritual on soprano saxophone with an African Kora and hand drums, and toasting Champagne licks with Cuban clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera on a Brazilian choro (“A Um Zero”).
Lest you think Cohen’s music is all deep and world-political, note that she’s also a girl who knows how to have fun, and dance with romantic colors: to wit, a swinging take on Edith Piaf’s signature song “La Vie En Rose” (with a cool, Louis Prima-like vocal by trombonist Wycliffe Gordon), and a devastating presentation of the lovesick Cartola ballad “As Rosas Nao Falam” (“The Roses Can’t Speak”).
This is the kind of music — warm, human, diverse and irresistible — that will not only bring the clarinet back into favor, but jazz itself.
Paul de Barros, Seattle Times jazz critic