Since her move from Israel to New York in 1999, Anat Cohen has dazzled audiences on a variety of reed instruments including clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano sax, and tenor sax. She is also one of those rare players who is somehow capable of spanning the entirety of jazz history on one album or song. That’s certainly the case on her cleverly named new CD, “Claroscuro.” The word is the Spanish version of the Italian term chiaroscuro, the intensely contrasting lighting that lends drama to the works of painters like Caravaggio. Claroscuro is not only an apt metaphor for the dynamic range of Cohen’s music; it’s also a nice pun on her clarinet prowess.
Cohen is, simply put, a hell of a player. Last year she won first place in the clarinet category in DownBeat magazine’s Critic’s Poll. This year she won first place “Rising Star” in the magazine’s tenor saxophone competition. While she soars on every tune, she is also wise in her choice of guest artists. Perhaps the most arresting track on the album is Cohen and guest clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera’s rendition of Artie Shaw’s “Nightmare.” With its treacherous slides, few clarinetists would even attempt it, but Cohen and D’Rivera are just getting started. The two take another wild ride on “Um A Zero.” Another excellent guest artist, Gilmar Gomes, lends his considerable percussion talents to “Tudo Que Você Podia Ser” and two other cuts.
Cohen, more of a player than composer, wrote only one tune here, but she knows how to pick them. While tracks like “All Brothers” by Cohen’s drummer, Daniel Freedman, and “Anat’s Dance,” by her pianist, Jason Lindner, are decidedly contemporary, “La Vie En Rose,” an Edith Piaf tune, hearkens back to the 1940s. Guest artist Wycliffe Gordon does a beautiful job on trombone on and vocals, effectively evoking that decade. The past and present are nicely fused together on Lonnie Smith’s beautiful “And The World Weeps.” Gordon’s trombone also helps here, lending the tune the classic sound of Duke Ellington.