A lot of the time, it can seem like jazz music is bound a sequence of strict rules — at the very least an anthology of things you shouldn’t and things you should do or people you should be and people you shouldn’t be. There are a lot of procedures and a lot that can estrange the listener from the artist.
Into that world of mistakes and alarm comes someone like Anat Cohen to shed a little light. By proving that playing this music is really about communicating some kind of truth, the Tel Aviv-born clarinetist and saxophonist proves that there are no boundaries and there are no rules when you’re playing and speaking from the soul. These sorts of things have a way of sorting themselves out.
Her Claroscuro, Cohen’s sixth as a leader, shows us just how thoughtful she is.
Joined by Jason Lindner (piano), Joe Martin (bass) and Daniel Freedman (drums) as well as guests like trombonist and vocalist Wycliffe Gordon and clarinetist (and personal favourite) Paquito D’Rivera, Cohen’s musicality flows from her connections to the group and from her inevitably fluid communication with the listener.
Through Claroscuro’s 11 pieces, the acclaimed artist takes to the language of music without limits. She streams smoothly through West African, Brazilian and traditional jazz while blending each form to create a comprehensive work.
Cohen moves from light to darkness with such flexibility that the two moods are joined at the hip. This illustrates what is the natural duality of her playing: the essence flows irrespective of surroundings and ignorant of its chains. The cheerful warmth of “Anat’s Dance” isn’t as far from the meditation of “And the World Weeps” as you might think.
“La Vie en Rose,” presented with good nature thanks to Gordon’s live vocal, is an homage to Louis Armstrong that connects the song to its original while kicking down the tempo a little. This track leans into the West African cuff of “All Brothers,” a high-spirited piece that slides Freedman under the spotlight with a burst of percussive bliss.
Then there’s “Nightmare,” a song that comes from the wondrous world of Artie Shaw and features the dual clarinets of Cohen and D’Rivera. Like a dream, the piece allows space for contemplation and still thrusts with attitude. Cohen handles the first solo, emerging from the swaggering stroke with her own enthralling version of Shaw’s lines.
Claroscuro represents all that is right about modern jazz. It keeps tradition in mind, for certain, but it also confidently muscles ahead full in the knowledge that this is no dead form bound by borders and rulebooks. This is living, breathing passion, a communicative gift that so few are able to express with excitement and accuracy. And Cohen speaks boldly, powering her vision daringly and keenly.