- 01. La Comparsa
- 02. No Moon At All
- 03. Carnaval de São Vicente
- 04. Do It
- 05. Cry Me a River
- 06. You Never Told Me That You Care
- 07. Medley: Samba De Orfeu/Struttin’
- 08. Cry
- 09. Bebê
- 10. Ingênuo
2007 | Anzic Records
4 stars from Down Beat and the rave that this album “could be a classic,” Cohen’s ten-song program unfolds like a timeless pan-American epic film score. Joined by the Anzic Orchestra – an all-star ensemble comprising three woodwinds, three trumpets, two trombones, three cellos, a guitar-bass-drums-percussion rhythm section and features performances by Ted Nash, Ali Jackson, Scott Robinson and others.
Liner Notes by DAN MORGENSTERN: written for and printed on NOIR original hard copies
There are moments in an artist’s career when things come together in a special way, and Noir is such a moment for Anat Cohen. From the time I first encountered this remarkable musician in 200l I’ve been delighted and amazed at every hearing, live or recorded, in the many and varied settings that display her gifts. Anat is nothing if not multifaceted, and this fine album presents almost all these facets in the aggregate. (Almost – since no record, no matter how great, can do full justice to a living, breathing, ever-developing creative multi-instrumentalist who will continue to surprise us.)
It brings together two main streams in Anat’s musical world, big band jazz and Brazilian music, and it is also a reunion with an old friend, Oded Lev-Ari, who here comes into view as an arranger of great skill and originality. Together in high school in Tel Aviv, they both had classical training – she on clarinet, he on piano – and both discovered jazz about the same time.
“My father loves American music, so I always heard it around the house, records and radio, and I remember listening to Louis Armstrong on my Walk-man,” Anat said. “Louis and Ella.” (For an old-timer like this writer, there is something wonderful about discovering Louis via Walkman) For Oded, the first conscious jazz encounter was “Ella in Berlin,” which he describes as “amazing.” The first record he bought was a Keith Jarrett album. Anat and Oded joined forces to purchase their first CD – very expensive for highschoolers – Sonny Rollins’ “The Bridge,” which they swapped back and forth.
But that was not where Anat’s jazz playing began; there was a Dixieland group at the conservatory, and a book of transcribed solos, “Which was good because I had no idea of improvisation.” She’s going back to those roots now, she comments, with her work in tubaist David Ostwald’s group dedicated to the music of Armstrong, and her appearances for the Sidney Bechet Society. It was at a recent Bechet concert, where she performed, among other fine things, an astonishing duet with guitarist Howard Alden on Jelly Roll Morton’s “Shreveport Stomp” that George Wein apparently caught her for the first time and pronounced her “incredible.” Her first attempts at improvisation, however, came in the conservatory’s big band. “I was shy, and for the longest time I wouldn’t improvise. But my older brother Yuval was studying jazz and was practicing Charlie Parker solos, and had Music Minus One records, so I would play a melody again and again and again to learn to improvise – it fascinated me.”
Both Anat (in the Air Force) and Oded (in the Army) developed further in military big bands, he mainly as a conductor and arranger, she on tenor sax as well as clarinet, and then, in l996, they both embarked for the U.S., Anat on a scholarship to Berklee College, Oded to attend New England Conservatory, where his main teacher was Bob Brookmeyer. “We lived across the hall from each other in Boston; we were eight Israelis there, like on a big Kibbutz.” By the turn of the century, they both settled in New York, Oded doing freelance arranging, including an album for the venerable Theodore Bikel, “and all sorts of things.” Anat’s all sorts of things, too many to mention all, include her stints with Diva, a formidable big band, and with the Choro Ensemble, a quintet in which she is the only non-Brazilian but a perfect fit (“For me, Choro is jazz,” she said). She has frequently toured in Brazil, as well as all over Europe and in Japan. She made her debut CD as a leader, the highly praised “Place & Time,” in 2005; it features several excellent compositions of her own.
The Anzic Orchestra is no ordinary ensemble but an array of genuine all-stars, distinguished by an unusual combination of instruments. Oded wanted to challenge himself, and he has succeeded in finding his own sounds. “Anat and I have shared many musical moments over the years, and I could not have asked for a more inspiring muse,” he told me. “Bringing the arrangements to life with this extraordinary group of musicians was thrilling. This project has been a joy, and I am honored to be a part of it.” His settings for Anat always enhance the soloist, creating a gorgeous tapestry of sounds. The textures are fresh and original, and those terms also apply to Anat.
Most young musicians, no matter how gifted, tend to reflect their influences, but Anat has found her own distinctive voice, on all her instruments. She never plays to the gallery; even her high notes are not for show, but part of the musical message. There are not many musicians on today’s scene who communicate such genuine joy in what they do; Branford Marsalis recently commented that young musicians lack charisma. Maybe he hasn’t heard and seen Anat. She loves to make music, and while she is a physically expressive player, her moves, like her music, are a true reflection of what she feels.
The program of “Noir” unfolds like a Pan-American film score. La Comparsa, a most appropriate opener, was originally a piano piece by the Cuban composer-pianist-bandleader Ernesto Lecuona (1896-1963), who enjoyed considerable success in Europe between the World Wars. Oded sees this piece as a parade coming into view and then passing by, and conjures up a fine Caribbean atmosphere for Anat’s supple clarinet. Cellos are in, Anat displays her warm chalumeau register, ensemble swells, beat intensifies, Anat soars, the parade fades away. Can she handle that instrument? You bet!
No Moon At All was popularized, like so many good songs, by Nat King Cole’s great trio. Anat’s tenor opens a capella, then states the theme over a colorful ensemble carpet, her brother Avishai’s crisp trumpet emerging briefly. Guilherme Monteiro’s guitar solo is almost a dialog with the ensemble, and then Anat improvises, with that great presence Nat Hentoff pointed out, offering a great bridge and then digging in, her high notes melding with the trumpets. The tension releases, and the tenor returns for a noir finish.
Carnaval De São Vicente was inspired by the Cape Verdean singer Cesaria Evora. “She has a really laid-back way of singing that I’m trying to capture with the clarinet,” Anat said. The warm sound of her chalumeau blends with the strings after Robert Burkhart’s introduction, and after some transparent ensemble playing we get a lively Brazilian rhythm, brass stabs contrasting with reeds, and Anat’s clarinet climbing up over ensemble proddings. Then Avishai solos, with a clear, bright tone, crisp execution, and fluent phrasing. Fine bass work by Barak Mori throughout, and a neat clarinet-strings ending.
Do It is a minor but happy jumper by Johnny Griffin, from a 1997 CD called “Chicago-New York-Paris” that Anat likes a lot. This piece features the Anzic Orchestra saxophone section. “Amazing players!” Anat says. She presents the tune, and then we hear some serpentine Billy Drewes tenor, Ted Nash’s bright alto in the same vein, and Scott Robinson handling his baritone with panache (that horn isn’t big to Scott, who excels on the contrabass saxophone, among other instruments). Then Anat comes into view, working up to a fine climax, with spots for Ali Jackson Jr.’s swinging drums. Theme returns, and Anat has the final say.
Cry Me A River, says Anat, “is a great clarinet song,” a statement she proceeds to prove. One of her strengths is that she knows how to present a melody, like a fine singer (Julie London owned this number, vintage 1955). The first bridge effectively alternates soloist and ensemble, and then Anat tells a story, with dramatic orchestral touches. She masters that instrument, and when she goes into the upper range, the sound never becomes shrill. There’s a clarinet cadenza, and don’t miss the pretty ending.
Our intercontinental journey now becomes intergalactical with a visit to Sun Ra’s realm. You Never Told Me That You Care, a collaboration with the great lead trumpeter Hobart Dotson (also a Mingus favorite) is a pretty ballad that Anat picked up on from James Carter’s recording. Anat imbues it with great feeling, fluency and range, always melodic – tenor playing in the grand tradition of Hawkins-Webster-Berry et al., to the inventive cadenza and that beautiful last note. Mature ballad playing is usually a later-in-life achievement, but Anat’s got the message.
Luiz Bonfa’s Samba De Orfeu was one of the first and biggest Brazilian hits in the U.S., via the great film Black Orpheus (another Noir ingredient), and here it is bracingly wedded to the great traditional jazz standard Struttin’ With Some Barbeque, forever identified with the one and only Louis Armstrong. (Introduced by his Hot Five in 1926, with his then wife Lil Hardin on piano, it was claimed by her post-divorce, but clearly bears Louis’ stamp. His manager, Joe Glaser, wanted to challenge Lil, but Louis said: “Let her have it. She needs the money more than I do,” and it remained a staple in his repertory.) The title, by the way, has nothing to do with food – it means walking proudly with a pretty girl on your arm, according to Louis. “We were playing the Samba one night and before we knew it we sort of drifted into Barbeque, since the melodies are so close,” Anat explains. The marriage is a natural one, and things unfold here at a perfect tempo. Anat’s on soprano here, and she’s become one of my favorites on that horn as well – lovely sound, perfect intonation. Her brother Yuval is also heard on this not-so-easy instrument, and it seems that good sound runs in the Cohen family, since trumpeter Avishai (an increasingly visible presence on the New York scene) is also heard from. It is indeed The 3 Cohens (who also record and perform as an ensemble under the same name) who are the featured soloists in the climactic finale, following a Barbeque setup in which they get assists from Billy Drewes and trombonist Yonatan Voltzok, in a kind of apotheosis of the traditional New Orleans spirit. Before that, we hear a great deal of solo work on the Samba changes, and thanks to Oded, I can give you a complete rundown: Ted Nash (alto), Anat (soprano), Voltzok (trombone), Yuval Cohen (soprano), Billy Drewes (tenor), Avishai Cohen (trumpet). Then, short solos by Billy, Avishai, Billy again, Anat, and Yuval, and then, over the band backdrop, Billy joined by Scott and then Anat. Following are short solos by Anat, Billy, Yuval, Billy and Anat (twice). The ending, as seasoned listeners will know, is taken from the Hot Five original. Fine work throughout from the rhythm section!
Cry comes as a special kick for this listener, who well recalls it as Johnnie Ray’s claim to fame in 195l (I happen to like the guy, probably the only hard-of-hearing singer to make it big). Introduced to Anat by a friend, it seemed to require the sound of an alto sax, and thus becomes her debut on that horn, which she handles with aplomb, needless to say getting a fine sound. Strings bring this on, and once again Anat shows her way with a melody. As her playing intensifies, so does the backing, and we build to a great ending – she cries. This is an R&B groove (what R&B used to be), and while I doubt she knows of him, Anat captures some of that Tab Smith ambiance. (Smith was a fine Johnny Hodges-inspired altoman who got himself some hits with Sin and other chestnuts in the 1950s.) Maybe we’ll hear some more alto from Anat?
Bebê, by the Brazilian multi-instrumentalist and composer Hermeto Pascoal, who briefly intersected with the U.S. modern jazz scene in the early 1970s, is a song Anat said she’s “loved for a long time. I first played it in Boston with my Brazilian bassist friend Leonardo Cioglia.” The great Duduka Da Fonseca adds much to the infectious rhythm (Anat can be found on a recent Da Fonseca CD, “Samba Jazz in Black and White,” that includes Cioglia as well). Robert Burkhart’s cello opens this, in his upper range, and then the dance begins. Anat thrives on this turf, making good use of a repeated phrase with rhythmic shifts, swinging to the hilt, and playing with what sounds to me like great blues feeling when backed by the rhythm players only. Then she makes her tenor shout, going way up with some Gil Evans-tinged voicings behind her. The ending is great, as is the whole performance.
Our journey comes to an end with Ingênuo, one of the more than 600 compositions by the remarkable man known as Pixinguinha (1897-1973), known as the father of Brazilian popular music. His main instrument was the flute, but when he came to Paris with his band in 1922, he discovered jazz and picked up the tenor. (In such trans-continental adventures there are echoes of Anat’s musical journeys.) She’s often played this piece, vintage 1947 with the Choro Ensemble and also with the New York Pops under the late Skitch Henderson. Erik Friedlander’s cello is prominent here as the pretty, nostalgic melody unfolds. At home in the Choro language, Anat improvises fluently – a highlight is the out-of-tempo passage setting clarinet against a lovely ensemble texture. Guitar makes itself felt, and the whole piece is a most effective meld of Choro and large ensemble.
Unlike most Noir films, this wide-ranging musical trip will leave you elated, happy and grateful that such beautiful, life-affirming music can still be made in this world of ours. That we will hear more from our protagonists is certain, and may it be soon!
Anat Cohen & The Anzic Orchestra “Noir” Press Quotes:
“No matter how you slice it, Noir is just a huge record.” - Pop Matters, April 2007
“…both records share her round romantic tone and her restless world-embracing spirit.” – Pop Matters, April 2007
“Where Noir is large and all-embracing, Poetica is tighter, sharper, and more personal.” – Pop Matters, April 2007
“She’s not only an intrepid and resourceful clarinetist, but also equally impressive on tenor, alto and soprano saxes…” - AllAboutJazz.com
“The tenor sound is big and muscular, with traces of Sonny Rollins, Joe Lovano and even Ben Webster/Coleman Hawkins surfacing from time to time.” - AllAboutJazz.com
[Anat Cohen has] flawless technique and placid self-assurance. .” – AllAboutJazz.com
…”there’s nothing Noir (dark) about this album. [Anat] and the orchestra are sunny and sparkling throughout. .” - AllAboutJazz.com
“Don’t overlook this treasure. .” – AllAboutJazz.com
While the writing is exemplary, Cohen’s playing is no less so. .” – AllAboutJazz.com
…exquisite charts… [Oded Lev-Ari] seems able to adapt any style from Brazilian to ballad, bop to pop, and make it lustrous and engaging. .” – AllAboutJazz.com
“Cry Me a River” is a splendid vehicle for her lyrical clarinet, while the Sun Ra ballad “You Never Told Me That You Care” brings new resonance to the saxophone oeuvre. – Global Rhythm, June 2007
..”.a superb ensemble recording.” – Global Rhythm, June 2007
“Playing with a pure, liquid, rich tone, Cohen dances through [the] music..”. – Fanfare (May/June, 2007)
“Noir is a winner”. - Fanfare (May/June, 2007)
“With a strong, confident sound, she leads the Anzic Orchestra through ten Oded Lev-Ari-arranged Cape Verdean carnaval tunes, Brazilian choro and jazz standards.” - All About Jazz NY, May 2007
“An appropriate opening “La Comparsa”…kicks the disc off playfully. It quivers with a grand jubilance…urged on by Cohen’s whirling, swirling lines”. - All About Jazz NY, May 2007
“Early reviews of “Noir” suggest that it will be one of the finest jazz records of the year..” - All About Jazz NY, May 2007
“[the arrangements by Oded Lev-Ari] alternate from lush Gil Evans harmonies to hard-charging bebop to a laconic beauty that could accompany a moody European film.” - Washington Post, May 2007
“As on Poetica, everything about Noir is first-rate” – JazzTimes, Saxophonics, June 2007
“The inclusion of a string section has sabotaged more than one jazz project. Lev-Ari incorporates them seamlessly, without a hint of idiomatic clash.” – JazzTimes, Saxophonics, June 2007
“Lev-Ari’s arrangements and the band’s interpretations, however, are virtually beyond criticism”. – JazzTimes, Saxophonics, June 2007
“It’s a lot of ground to cover, to be sure, but thanks in large part to…Cohen’s interpretive finesse, the journey is never dull or predictable”. – Washington Post. May 2007
“Wonderfully textured and evocative arrangements, devised by Oded Lev-Ari, keep lulls at bay.” - Washington Post. May 2007
“Check the blending of rhythm and melody [on] “Carnaval de São Vicente.” In a much more languid mood, but just as beautifully phrased, “Ingênuo” closes the album with an elegant flourish.” – Billboard, April 2007
“The makeup of the ensemble makes for a rich sound, imparting an almost cinematic feel to the 10 tunes.” – Billboard, April 2007
“Noir” is a big-band record, but it has a distinctive, bygone-era vibe. - Billboard, May 2007
“Cohen has matured as a multi-reedist, demonstrating tremendous fluency and melodicism.” - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette March 2007
“The whole ensemble becomes a glorious parade, at once a Crescent City Second Line and a Pan-American conga line, marching from Rio to New Orleans and back, strutting not only with barbecue sauce but with salsa.” - New York Sun, May 2007