Lucid Culture


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.

February 15, 2012 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Yes! Trio Reaffirm Themselves at the Jazz Standard

The Yes! Trio with Aaron Goldberg on piano, Omer Avital on bass and Ali Jackson on drums have a new album just out on Sunnyside. Last night they played the first of their two record release shows for it at the Jazz Standard – if melodic jazz that’s equal parts wit and chops is your thing, you should see their show tonight (sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 PM). Avital and Jackson have a long history together since their days as young lions of the scene that coalesced around Smalls in the early 90s and re-energized jazz in this city, so they have a good idea of when the other’s punchlines might be coming – Avital tends to be the scene-stealer here but not always. Goldberg’s role in this tends to be a raised eyebrow, “I know what you’re up to back there,” although he’s not above leaving the gravitas behind and flying off with the rest of the crew, typically when least expected. Their camaraderie can be friendly, or droll, and it’s steeped in years of experience in a vast range of styles (the last time we caught Avital, he was playing a Paul McCartney model bass guitar, and then oud, in an Israeli rock band).

Their show last night was bright, bristling with energy and electric with anticipation. They opened with an expansive modal blues titled Mohammed’s Market, Goldberg holding it together with clenched-teeth composure, Avital taking the first of several tongue-in-cheek solos spiced with brief flashes of standards, cheesy pop songs, “charge” motifs and pretty much anything else he could scrape up in a flash, bending his high strings with a bluesy, guitarish grin. Goldberg related how they’d just written the song hours before, Avital singing the melody to the band rather than handing out charts: “As you can see, we don’t usually have music to go from,” Goldberg deadpaned. Jackson explained later in the set how he’d inspired Avital to write it: years ago, the two were touring the former East Germany a couple of years after the Berlin Wall came down. Fast food and vending machines had yet to make it into the train stations there, so “If you didn’t have breakfast, good luck!” he explained. Fortunately, he had a local to visit – an aunt – who took him out to stock up on snacks. On the train the next day, Jackson opened his suitcase for some munchies, causing one of his jealous bandmates to ask, “What’s that, Mohammed’s Market?”

They swung the next tune with a similarly bluesy edge, Avital taking another lengthy digression. The jazz waltz El Sol maintained a suspenseful vibe, straight through a whispery, conspiratorial outro. They hit their lone cover of the evening, Epistrophy, hard, matter-of-factly Monk-like, not wasting any time. Goldberg drew them out of yet another heavy-lidded, gleeful Avital solo with a build to a breathtaking, cascading, ringingly chromatic run up and then down again, which drew the loudest applause of the night. Their final number, Flow, was based on changes to Giant Steps. Finally, after an entire set of urbane elegance, Jackson put that approach down for good and rode the rims til the second verse, galloping and carnivalesque, with an interlude where he hit on the “one” in an attempt to out do Avital at the vaudevillian game. When he straightened out, he was still spotting random Kenny Washington-style off-beat accents to keep everybody on their toes – including the audience. A little later on, Goldberg let out a yell as the band went doublespeed, punching out the seemingly endless series of expanding intervals with triumphant precision. What these guys really ought to do is one of those “live at the Jazz Standard” albums like the Mingus Orchestra did a couple of years ago: the pristine sound and the band’s lively fan base would only enhance it.

February 8, 2012 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment