“We can talk without talking,” says Anat, the middle child. “Often, we don’t even have to look at each other onstage. We have such history together that we feel each other through the music.”
Yuval, Anat and Avishai Cohen grew up in Tel Aviv under the same roof and in the same schools, with the common environment helping to shape close musical tastes, approaches and ideas. The three attended the Tel Aviv School for the Arts, the “Thelma Yalin” High School for the Arts and the Jaffa Music Conservatory, their backgrounds including some symphonic orchestral playing. But it was jazz that soon captured their imaginations. Through the World Scholarship Tour, each of the Cohens received the means to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where they expanded their musical horizons. Post-graduation, the trio formed a sextet and performed their original music at the Lodz Jazz Festival in Poland. This was the seed of One, their debut album as The 3 Cohens, recorded in 2003. Since then, The 3 Cohens sextet has ranged from acclaimed appearances at the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival, Caesarea Jazz Party and Givatayim Jazz Festival in Israel to performances at the Tudo é Jazz Festival in Brazil and the JVC and Portland Jazz festivals in the U.S. The 3 Cohens have also played top clubs from Paris, Italy and Australia to the famed Village Vanguard in Manhattan, performing a week-long residency there in 2009.
Acclaim for The 3 Cohens was immediate with the release of One. Reviewing the album, All About Jazz offered extended praise: “What gives The 3 Cohens a certain edge is the simpatico they share, extending beyond merely being siblings; it involves all three sharing the common bond of music from an early age, and the kind of comfort level and intuition that can only come from playing together for many years. The result, whether it’s on the pastoral tinge of `For My Brother and Sister,’ the more incessantly swinging `In Amirim,’ which still manages to hint at a Middle Eastern harmonic sensibility, or the tender ballad `Morning Dream,’ is a front line that finds pleasure in the subtlest nuances. While there are hints of their ethnic heritage, make no mistake – this music is clearly rooted in contemporary post-bop. . . Throughout, a joyfulness pervades these performances.”
Braid, the strikingly mature sophomore release by The 3 Cohens, brims with original compositions of soul and fire, from Avishai’s melodically gorgeous “Gigi et Amelie” and Anat’s elegantly groovy “U-Valley” to Yuval’s showcase for explosive interplay, “Freedom.” Reviewing the album, All About Jazz was again full of enthusiasm, pointing out how the threesome’s “inside jokes, finishing of each others’ sentences and playful sibling rivalries spur the ensemble to refined heights. . . The sextet offers fresh, modern jazz full of energy, daring and emotion.” The New York Times also enthused over the group’s “family sound” and “intuitive counterpoint” before pointing out the players’ individual qualities: “Anat has emerged as one of the best clarinet players in jazz, with a warm and singing tone; Avishai can play bebop and ballad lines and outer-limit trumpet sounds with tireless fluency; and Yuval has a full and relaxed sound on soprano.”
The latest 3 Cohens album, Family, again presents some top-notch originals, including Avishai’s loving title feature for the group’s characteristic three-horn interweave and two Charles Mingus-inflected numbers (Yuval’s “Blues for Dandi’s Orange Bull Chasing an Orange Sack” and Avishai’s “With the Soul of the Greatest of Them All”). The disc also includes a winning take on Duke Ellington’s “The Mooch,” an international retooling of the New Orleans standard “Tiger Rag” and a freshly colored interpretation of “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” born of the group’s great love for and experience with the music of Louis Armstrong. The sextet is joined by iconic vocalist Jon Hendricks for the vintage “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and “Roll ’em, Pete.”
When not working together, each of the Cohens excel individually. Yuval, the eldest, releases his sophomore album – Song Without Words, a duo set with pianist Shai Maestro – on the same day as Family. He recently won Israel’s prestigious Landau Award for his achievements in jazz, and along with being a performer, he is one of his country’s most sought after educators. In 2011, Anat earned her fifth straight Clarinetist of the Year honor at the Jazz Journalist Association Awards, and she topped the 2011 DownBeat Critics Poll as Clarinetist of the Year. A resident of New York City, Anat has toured the world with her quartet, playing the Newport, Umbria, SF Jazz and North Sea jazz festivals as well as the Village Vanguard, where she recorded her fifth album, the live Clarinetwork, with rhythm mates Benny Green, Peter Washington and Lewis Nash (released by Anzic in 2010). Avishai, the youngest Cohen and also a resident of New York, played his own set at the 2011 Newport Jazz Festival, and he also tours widely with the SF Jazz Collective. The trumpeter has released several recordings, including 2010’s lauded Introducing Triveni with bassist Omer Avital and drummer Nasheet Waits, on Anzic. Avishai was a finalist in the 2011 DownBeat Critic’s Poll in the Rising Star: Jazz Artist and Rising Star: Trumpet categories.
Coming back to The 3 Cohens after their individual experiences is a welcome thing for the three musicians. Yuval points to how much fun it is for the siblings to play together simply “because we know each other so well and respect each other so much.” For Avishai, the family band “is probably closest to my heart,” he says. “You get to create music with incredible musicians whom you also know and love unconditionally.”
The leadership role in The 3 Cohens “constantly shifts, with each us of taking turns as leaders depending on the tune and situation,” explains Anat. “We’re democratic about things, so there is a moment for one to shine and the others to support. Because Yuval is the oldest, it was natural for him to be the leading force early on, of course, and we were comfortable following him. Now that we’re adults with our own lives and careers, we each bring our own influences, experience and confidence to the group. It’s an ongoing process to say what we want to say as individuals and still incorporate repertoire into the group that we all feel attuned to. But we work at it.
It’s a journey.” When the Cohens hang out with each other off the bandstand, “we are 100% siblings, with all that implies,” says Anat, with a laugh. “But we have gotten better over the years at looking beyond our sibling relationships to treat each other as artists – whether that’s not being too familial in rehearsal or just not cracking each other up onstage too much. I do think people can hear the love we have for each other, because it comes through in the music. We share so much. To me, the sounds of the trumpet and the soprano saxophone are really the sounds of my brothers, just as the sound of the clarinet for them is me. To keep sharing our music onstage and in the studio is a gift.”