Friday, July 3, 2009

Brava Anat!

Photo credit: Osnat Rom

Ok, I know I just wrote about the "3 Cohens", but I can't ignore great music :-) I had the incredible pleasure of hearing just one Cohen-- Anat-- during her week-long engagement at the Village Vanguard.

On clarinet.

You may wonder why that deserves a separate paragraph. I'll get to that. First, the show details. Entitled "Benny Goodman and Beyond," it featured Anat leading a stellar group comprised of Benny Green on piano, Peter Washington on bass, and Lewis Nash on drums.

Now back to the clarinet. At Berklee, we would not-so-affectionately refer to the clarinet as "the misery stick." While capable of producing a beautiful sound (well, not when I played it, but theoretically :-)), it is far less technically forgiving than the saxophone, and has really assumed a very minor role in the jazz world over the past 50 years, with Eddie Daniels and others as notable exceptions. During the big-band era, however, it enjoyed considerable prominence and one of the most popular and influential musicians of the day, Benny Goodman, was a clarinet player...

For that reason, Anat's show was quite aptly titled. Despite some marvelous individual work by various musicians like Daniels through the years, people still tend to associate the clarinet with Benny Goodman. Anat graciously acknowledges Goodman's long shadow, but has proceeded to take the clarinet to new places. While her set featured such traditional songs as "Tiger Rag," "St. Louis Blues," and "What A Little Moonlight Can Do," Anat offered a fresh interpretation of each. For starters, she has a modern-- and superb-- rhythm section with which to interact. Green's chord choices and comping patterns, Washington's sophisticated bass lines and Nash's poly-rhythmic responses all lend a new twist to older compositions. Her arrangements also seemed designed to highlight the group's different strengths as soloists, offering ample time for everyone to stretch out, explore the songs and interact.

But the real reason this show stood out was due to Anat's brilliant clarinet work. I'm not accustomed to hearing someone make a clarinet sound as easy to play as a tenor saxophone, but she did. I've heard people say that when you watch a truly great actor you forget that it's an actor playing the part and think only of the character-- I believe that the same is true with an instrumentalist. Within a few phrases I stopped marveling at Anat's clarinet technique and began marveling only at her musicality. She can weave the same intricate post-bop lines of a saxophonist through her solos, but with a clarinet's timbre...

And just as greater technique can unlock new ideas for improvisers, so can the natural qualities of an instrument. If you listen to some of the older Benny Goodman recordings, you'll hear him glide and "soar" above the other instruments due to the clarinet's voice-- it has an elegance and clarity of sound that probably comes from its classical origins (for an example of this, check out his version of "Memories of You" with Rosemary Clooney). Anat seemed inspired by the clarinet's capabilities as she added more glissandos to her modern vocabulary. There were a number of moments where she would seem to pause her lines and let a few of the rich higher notes ring out-- which certainly energized both the audience and her bandmates.

Finally, as I mentioned the last time I heard her perform with the rest of her family, she plays with an expressive joy that infects the audience-- I can't remember the last time I saw so many people smiling at a jazz concert! :-) I really recommend going to see her live the next time she is performing...this town is full of great players and innovators, but you're cheating yourself if you pass up the opportunity to hear someone literally revive a beautiful instrument and blaze a new trail. Plus it's always cool to say that you heard someone before they become a household name, although after winning a number of prestigious jazz awards, you may not have much time left for that in Anat's case...

Brava Anat!


  1. Sounds amazing! I remember the first time I heard jazz clarinet and was blown away. After years of middle school concert choir, I had no idea a clarinet could be either cool or soulful, let alone both.

  2. It really is under-utilized in jazz-- but I think a big reason is that it's just flat-out hard to play :-) That's why it's so exciting to hear someone like Anat who is doing so much to reintroduce it to the mainstream!