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Anat Cohen: 'Clarinetwork' At The Vanguard

Anat Cohen is one of many younger Israelis active on the New York jazz scene, including her brother, trumpeter Avishai Cohen; the unrelated bass player Avishai Cohen; and pianist Anat Fort. One measure of Anat Cohen's success is that she regularly plays the Village Vanguard, the city's most prestigious basement. For her 2009 week at the Vanguard, she paid tribute to her early clarinet hero Benny Goodman, in honor of his 100th birthday. Her quartet plays tunes associated with Goodman, or at least songs he recorded while backing Billie Holiday.

Cohen quotes a classic New Orleans solo from "High Society" that every clarinetist used to know, and likes it enough to work it in into Clarinetwork: Live at the Village Vanguard, released on her Anzic label. I like her clarinet sound: dry and woody, a little rough but not too much. Kind of like Benny Goodman's, as far as that goes.

At this point in jazz history, honoring past masters like Goodman seems all too easy, almost a default position. But Cohen and company treat 1920s and '30s material with a relatively free hand; when they get rolling in "Sweet Georgia Brown," her rhythm section -- pianist Benny Green, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash -- echoes the thunder of John Coltrane's quartet.

Flexible as that rhythm trio is, it can sound a little hemmed in by the old-school material. True, it plays lots of modern music elsewhere, Cohen included. But even with many good clarinetists around nowadays, the instrument hasn't made that much headway into contemporary jazz, and retro programs like this probably won't help the cause. That grumble aside, Anat Cohen sounds like she's just hitting her stride on clarinet. That makes her one to watch.

Copyright 2022 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Kevin Whitehead is the jazz critic for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Currently he reviews for The Audio Beat and Point of Departure.