Few musical ploys are as riveting as intricacy, especially when the ensemble at hand is sizable. But without a wealth of eloquence in play, elaboration can be its own worst enemy, a knot of tangles void of emotion. Anat Cohen knows this, and though her Tentet’s second album boasts some truly formidable crossweaves, there’s seldom a moment when poise doesn’t carry the day.
Much of the grace that guides these victories has to do with what the leader has deemed the group’s “flexible” nature. As with the Gil Evans-led ensemble on Sketches of Spain or Ellington’s troupe on “A Tone Parallel to Harlem,” listeners never hear the mechanics of the work at hand, just the resultant art floating through the air. This applies to all the tunes—from Astor Piazzolla’s “Milonga del Angel” to Stan Kenton’s “Lonesome Train”—but especially the program’s centerpiece, a Carnegie Hall and Chicago Symphony Center commission penned by Tentet musical director Oded Lev-Ari that gives the album its title.
The three sections of “Triple Helix” are varied in disposition. Though Cohen’s clarinet is out front, the band’s level of interplay is wily; the score steers them away from all things obvious. The Rite of Spring and Rhapsody in Blue flash by, even a phrase from “Turkey in the Straw” pops up. But in the end, former Tel Aviv schoolmates Lev-Ari and Cohen deliver an original and deeply affecting work whose dramatic aspects are given lots of room to reveal themselves.
That flexibility thing shows up in the album’s other pieces too. The bouncy “Footsteps & Smiles” is a crowd-pleasing fanfare, detailed and swinging. “Miri” allows Cohen to wax bittersweet; “La Llorona” augments that feel and throws in a bit of spookiness. By the time Triple Helix is done, it’s hard to decide if its success rests on stylistic breadth or the deep rewards of partnership. Probably both.
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