When she first burst onto the musical stage, Anat Cohen laid claim to being one of the most distinctive voices among both tenor saxophonists and clarinettists. She also showed that while she had a prodigious gift for both instruments her virtuosity on the clarinet was particularly and almost insolently brilliant. Along the way she showed her abiding love for Brasilian music and even formed a Choro Ensemble to prove it time and again. Having subsequently lived and worked for substantial spans of time [in Brasil] she grew from playing splendidly in the Brasilian vernacular to mastering the multiplicity of the swirling currents of Brasilian musical dialects to such an extent that today – with lips and tongue caressing her reeds, one may easily say that her music now “sings” in the multitudinous mother tongues of Brasilian music – melodic, harmonic and rhythmic, as if all rolled into one.
Miss Cohen proves this beyond doubt with the magical repertoire on Quartetinho – which is also the notional name of her new foursome. These are spirited, occasionally restless performances that capture the adrenalin rush of a live concert. The music of Quartetinho – a studio account, no less – preserves much of the incisiveness, urgency, and lightness of touch that Miss Cohen has come to be known for over the years. Here she focuses her formidable musicianship entirely on the clarinet and bass clarinet, playing throughout with breathtaking balance, poise and daring. The laidback warmth is exponentially increased and made more luxuriant, tonally and texturally by the other members of the quartet: long-time musical partner, pianist and accordionist Vitor Gonçalves. Rumbling deep in the depths with his contrabass is Tal Mashiach, adding what in a chamber ensemble would be elegant continuo, the inimitable James Shipp adds radiance with the vibraphone, together with an assortment of percussion colours.
But make no mistake, it is the moody, and, at times, glorious ebullience of Miss Cohen’s distinctive music that one becomes aware of from start to finish. Although the insistent whine of the synthesizer sets things up Baroquen Spirit, the music melts into the classic Egberto Gismonti chart Palhaço, unfolding [as Mr Gismonti’s music calls for] in liquid streams of quavers that gather into a gentle cascade that reaches fruition in the coda. In between there is music in which Miss Cohen’s bass clarinet turns dark notes into light, breathing in the fluid melody, with breathless harmonic accompaniment – the ebony rhythm provided – here and elsewhere – by the redoubtable Mr Mashiach’s plump pizzicato. As Miss Cohen and Mr Gonçalves imbue this intertwining dance – doing likewise with Mr Gismonti’s Frevo, later on the disc – with tender intimacy.
In numerous passages throughout the programme, as Miss Cohen veers off-course from the Brasilian narrative – on Going Home by Antonin Dvorák, for instance, Miss Cohen engages both Mr Shipp’s gleaming vibraphone notes and Mr Gonçalves’ wheezing accordion to paint an elegiac picture of the extract from Dvorák’s New World Symphony, finding ways to hold even the most expansive melodic notes, phrases and lines taut [but not rigidly so] and thereby to create enormous tension. The soft playing by both vibraphonist and pianist/accordionist is felt even at its quietist, perhaps because the touch of each of the musicians – Miss Cohen included – is so varied and minutely articulated.
The repertoire on the album is a judicious mix of Brasilian fare – [with Gismonti, Tom Jobim and Maria do Carmo Barbosa de Meio – all sharing credits. Miss Cohen adds her own pieces unabashedly to the mix. She is a masterful composer with a penchant for voluptuous imagery, played with idiomatic deep, un-saccharine sweetness with eloquent portamento, moulding notes as well as playing some with expressive trill – always with heartfelt and noble deportment.
Rhythmically – something referred to earlier in this essay – you will hardly notice the spare use of so-called Brasilian percussion. A drummer is also nowhere in sight. But Mr Mashiach and Mr Shipp still manage to conjure a rhythmic startlingly large edifice. The character and nuanced dancing Brasilian rhythms are also felt, simmering as if in a bright blue flame which lights up the smorgasbord of dance forms – both Brasilian [as in Frevo] and completely invented, yet somehow seeming Brassiliant enough – such as on Miss Cohen’s Birdie and Louisiana, and Mr Mashiach’s quite superb wildly Manouche-like Vivi & Zaco, which brings this exquisite album to a close. Truly this is Anat Cohen at her best, her Brasilliance shining through from end to end.
YouTube Playlist – Anat Cohen: Quartetinho
Music – 1: Baroquen Spirit; 2: Palhaço; 3: Boa Tarde Fovo; 4: Birdie; 5: Canon; 6: O Boto; 7: The Old Guitar; 8: Frevo; 9: Louisiana; 10: Going Home; 11: Vivo and Zaco.
Musicians – Anat Cohen: clarinet and bass clarinet; Vitor Gonçalves: piano, accordion and Fender Rhodes; Tal Mashiach: bass and guitar; James Shipp: vibraphone, percussion, glockenspiel and analog synthesizer.
Released – 2023
Label – Anzic Records [ANZ 082]
Runtime – 57:59
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