Fun with Anat Cohen at the Miller Theatre
Jazz reedwoman Anat Cohen’s show Saturday night at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre looked to be sold out, or very close to it. Early on, she explained to the crowd that playing music for her was akin to bantering, and her bandmates no doubt agreed. Pianist Jason Lindner, bassist Omer Avital and drummer Daniel Freedman joined her in a mostly upbeat, often joyously melodic, high-energy set that reflected both her eclecticism and her fondness for Brazilian styles. This show wasn’t about crazed bop assaultiveness or weird tempos: it was all about meaningful contributions, and memorable tunes, and sometimes exuberant, sometimes sly interplay. Cohen’s fearsome technique is matched by her unselfconsciously warm approach to the music: when she wasn’t playing, she swayed, eyes closed, radiating a contented grin. Beginning on clarinet, then switching to soprano sax and then tenor for awhile, she and Lindner alternated between casually incisive swirls and cascades, and more contemplative passages marked by smartly chosen chromatics that made a vividly darker contrast with an otherwise high-spirited vibe.
The opening track, Anat’s Dance, was a Lindner composition, its bright, dramatic hooks giving way to a moody piano solo that finally rose with a rippling triumph against Freedman’s crescendoing cymbal atmospherics. They built an edgy funk tune out of the next number, setting Brazilian tropicalisms to a summery soul-infused groove, a mood they’d revisit in even more casually amped-up mode with their Coasters cover that closed their first set.
Cohen switched to tenor for their take of Frank Foster’s The Wedding, with a tone as smoky and as attuned to the song’s wee-hours congeniality as her crystalline clarity on the higher-register instruments had been earlier in the set. The song is essentially a jazzed-up soul groove, so it only made sense that when it came time for his solo, Avital would go up high on the fingerboard for some bright, bluesy guitar voicings that contrasted with Lindner’s more considered, impressionistic cheeriness.
When Freedman and Lindner left the stage for the next tune, Cohen worked the situation for laughs, then joined Avital for a swirlingly gorgeous clarinet-and-bass duo that blended slinky Bahian ebullience with brazing klezmer tonalities. The samba-jazz ballad they followed with was a rousingly successful journey through dynamics that began pensively, took an upward trajectory with Cohen’s most biting solo of the night and ended on an unexpectedly brooding note as the clarinet it down elegantly. They closed with a hypnotically rhythmic Freedman composition that the drummer cleverly morphed from an Ethiopian-flavored triplet rhythm to a practically disco shuffle – it wouldn’t have been out of place in the Either/Orchestra catalog. The crowd wanted an encore, but the house lights came up immediately.
Beyond Cohen’s popularity, maybe another reason the hall was so well-populated is that these Miller Theatre jazz shows are a real bargain: tickets were $25, with none of the drink minimums, or mandatory coat check, or the other nickel-and-dime concessions that some of the big-ticket jazz clubs get you for. The next one of these is on the 25th of this month with Don Byron’s New Gospel Quintet.
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