Just by looking at her résumé, someone who doesn’t know any better might assume that Anat Cohen is Brazilian. The Israeli-born, U.S.-based clarinetist and saxophonist has recorded and performed with the Choro Ensemble, drummer Duduka Da Fonseca, and percussionist Cyro Baptista, and she’s shared top billing on a pair of albums with Trio Brasileiro and as many duo releases with seven-string guitarist Marcello Gonçalves. Adding to that running list, she’s assembled this unique foursome—her “little quartet,” as the title translates—with bandmates originally hailing from each of the aforementioned geographic points of connection.
Teaming up with pianist/accordionist Vitor Gonçalves, bassist/guitarist Tal Mashiach, and percussionist/synthesist James Shipp, and sticking to clarinet and bass clarinet, Cohen leads the way through a winning selection of nuanced numbers that look within and beyond Brazilian borders. For covers there’s a playful, bass-bolstered take on Antônio Carlos Jobim’s “O Boto”; a hip and quirky look at Maria do Carmo Barbosa de Melo’s “Boa Tarde Povo”; the group’s direct nod to Antonín Dvořák’s folk-friendly New World Symphony with “Going Home”; and two contrasting Egberto Gismonti gems—the dawning “Palhaço” and animated “Frevo.”
Six originals, drawing on broad influences, make up the balance of the program, with three of the four band members contributing to that tally. Shipp, whose vibraphone is the keystone for much of this music, sets the album in motion with his wonderfully curious “Baroquen Spirit.” Mashiach deals in two different strains of aching beauty with “The Old Guitar” and “Vivi & Zaco.” And Cohen, bringing the sinuous “Birdie,” spirit song “Canon,” and swampy-and-bluesy “Louisiana” to the table, proves that her pen is every bit as impressive as her clarinet(s). This may be a compact quartet, but there’s nothing small about its outlook and ambitions.