The world of legitimate jazz does not have many stars. Anat Cohen is one. Her high visibility began in 2007 with Noir, a lush large-ensemble project arranged by Oded Lev-Ari. She has not made another orchestral album until now. Her new tentet, with Lev-Ari again conducting and arranging, is only occasionally lush. Instead it is quick on its feet and fluent in many groove languages. Cohen is the only famous musician in her tentet, but these New York players are sophisticated enough to operate in a large variety of styles, eras and cultures, and daring enough to keep a small orchestra loose and wide open.
On the exuberant opening title track, the band sets up Cohen to do what she does best: stream clarinet extravagance in silvery effusions of mercurial melody. The second song, “Valsa Para Alice,” is also a Cohen original but with a very different pensive atmosphere and an arrangement by Lev-Ari that is, yes, lush. Besides Cohen, the rapt solos are from James Shipp on vibraphone and Vitor Gonçalves on accordion. “Oh Baby” is a fun retro swinger associated with Benny Goodman. The longest and most ambitious piece, “Anat’s Doina,” is this Israeli musician’s first recorded encounter with klezmer. Cohen and Lev-Ari also draw upon rich Brazilian and African sources (Egberto Gismonti’s “Loro” and Neba Solo’s “Kenedougou Foly”). Lev-Ari’s “Trills and Thrills,” composed for the tentet, is so moody and dark and dramatic that Gil Evans might have conceived it. Sheryl Bailey’s hardcore rock guitar is shot through with Cohen’s passionate clarinet cries, while the ensemble wails en masse.
Yet in this fresh, eclectic program, the most moving moment is the one standard, “Goodbye.” Cohen renders Gordon Jenkins’ melody with devastating emotional finality. It is not easy to come up with new perspectives on the universal human experience of love lost.