It has been more than 70 years since Benny Goodman, a nice clarinet-blowing Jewish boy from Chicago, emerged on the jazz scene and kept things swinging in the homeland during the Second World War. Today, things are different. The world is at war on another front; many musical revolutions have already occurred, norms and icons have been shattered. The Tel Aviv-born clarinet player Anat Cohen is doing a fine job at perhaps filling Goodman’s chair. After all, she has a formidable sense of soul and the ability to make an impression on the jazz aesthetic, and in doing so she does it justice. Whereas Goodman was a classicist, setting a modern jazz precedent, Cohen is an impressionist, paying homage to the masters of old, while acknowledging the times of present. She certainly sketched impressions of a rainy Saturday night at the legendary Village Vanguard, where she was just closing up a one-week stint that had featured a guest appearance by trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, earlier in the week.
On Saturday, she performed with her quartet featuring Jason Lindner on piano, Joe Martin on bass and Daniel Freedman on drums. The opening number was an old Cuban tune, “Siboney,” world music being a fascination of this Sabra, educated at Berklee and born again in the West Village. The arrangement was especially interesting, opening with a percussion and piano vamp that led into a section in the cut-time of klezmer music, featuring a few bars of reggae, then unmistakable funk before settling into a Latin rhythm more indicative of Cuban music; the solos happened over the latter rhythm. Lindner did a good job picking up the harmonic dynamics of Cohen’s soloing with his accompaniment, before a few extended bars of clarinet cadenza.
The second song of the evening was Abdullah Ibrahim’s classic “The Wedding.” Before strapping on her tenor saxophone, Anat told the audience, “Welcome to the Village Vanguard, the best jazz club in the world!” The venue was the recording studio for Cohen’s 2008 live album, Notes From the Village. She is right. There is something about that place: the history, the mystique, the way the train is heard rumbling underground between sets. A photograph of Cohen in a recent issue of the Wall Street Journal, showing her sitting in a booth in front of a wall of photos, gazing up, as if she is saying to the portraits of jazz legends who have graced the same stage, “Well, fellas, here I am, and I could not have done it without you!” tells both Cohen’s and the Vanguard’s narrative quite well.
The rendition of “The Wedding” began with a few bars of thick chordal soloing by Lindner; the tune turned into a religious display of soulful blues chops. The next tune was “Laura,” on which the multi-reedist Cohen switched to soprano saxophone, playing lyrical statements that would have sent Sidney Bechet back to the woodshed to try to unravel what a century or so of innovation on soprano and clarinet can do. Other highlights of the evening were the Lindner composition, “Anat’s Dance,” and a Dr. Lonnie Smith cover, “And the World Weeps,” which is featured on Cohen’s newest release, Claroscuro, available soon from Anzic Records. Claroscuro is the Spansh translation of the Italian word Chiaroscuro, which translates into English as light-dark in painting. If the critics are right, you can’t go wrong with the new Anat Cohen record, the way you cannot go wrong with seeing Cohen on a rainy Saturday night at the Vanguard.