Monday, May 14, 2018

Israeli clarinetist, at the top of the class on her instrument, heads 10-piece band in 'Happy Song'

Anat Cohen brings ebullience to be shared with her band in "Happy Song."
As a clarinetist, Anat Cohen has charmed me ever since I heard her soloing in a CD of Jason Lindner's big band.

Here is a fresh sound on the clarinet for our times, it seemed to me. Since then, there have been occasional recordings under her name as leader, as well as in the 3 Cohens band she has headed with her brothers, trumpeter Avishai and soprano saxophonist Yuval.

The latest one to float onto my "must-listen" pile  is "Happy Song" (Anzic Records), an inspired collection of originals and a few songs from other pens. What makes it work especially well are arrangements by Oded Lev-Ari, each one reflecting interplay between featured soloists and the accompaniment texture. The title tune and "Oh Baby" are enough to establish the tentet's affinity for ageless swing.

Cohen has abjured dour moods throughout this program, though there's little evidence in her previous work that she ever likes to wallow in gloom. After an introduction that poses a questioning attitude, she and her band rip into Egberto Gismondi's "Loro," hitting an up-tempo samba groove that never lets up. Accordionist Vitor Goncalves contributes one of the most imaginative solos of the set before the whole band makes it a showcase for him.

The faux avant-garde introduction of "Trills and Thrills," a Lev-Ari original, proves to be merely a tease before Sheryl Bailey's guitar takes the lead, arriving at a level of gravitas that's as moody as this program gets.

Even the Israeli-rooted suite "Anat's Doina," for all its somber hints, becomes a fast-moving, blithe excursion.  Lev-Ari's arrangement of Gordon Jenkins' "Goodbye," which has been a dependable sentimental farewell ever since Benny Goodman made it popular decades ago, provides a slow, reflective respite near the end.

But it doesn't get the last word: The leader's arrangement of the dancing "Kenedongon Foly" has Owen Broder's baritone sax romping over an infectious rhythm section keyed to James Shipp's vibes. The leader carries out the groove in a unison front line that segues into a call-and-response climax of effusiveness, accelerating up to the final bar.

That happy song is your step, baby (as Louis Armstrong sings  in "On the Sunny Side of the Street")!

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