|Anat Cohen & Fred Hersch Live in Healdsburg Anzic Records ANZ 0061|
The clarinet is an instrument that harkens back to the early days of Dixieland, later becoming a prominent vehicle of expression in the swing era. Names like Barney Bigard, Sidney Bechet, Artie Shaw, Buddy DeFranco, Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman, Bob Wilber and the king of swing Benny Goodman all brought the clarinet to the forefront of jazz in their respective eras. The instrument saw a resurgence in the hands of innovators like Jimmy Giuffre, Eric Dolphy, Ken Peplowski and Eddie Daniels in later years. These artists all have one thing in common, they are all men.
Today the preeminent practitioner of this wooden instrument is a petite Israeli woman named Anat Cohen. Not only has Cohen almost single-handedly resurrected an interest in this marvelously expressive instrument, she has shown that in the right hands the clarinet can be both modern and versatile. With Cohen the clarinet can more than hold its own as a dominant voice on the present-day jazz bandstand. Her remarkable virtuosity and creativity have been duly recognized with her two recent Grammy nominations.
The pianist Fred Hersch has been long considered one of the most sensitive of players in jazz. He is said to play with a great romanticism, employing a superb touch. His deep immersion into what he is playing is often manifested by his expressive physical movements while playing, showing the depth of his emotional connection to the music. The now sixty-two-year-old Hersch has a storied history, having shared the stage with icons like Art Farmer, Charlie Haden, Joe Henderson and Toots Thielemans to name just a few. He has had working trios under his own name since 1985 and has been nominated twelve times for a Grammy award for his work.
|Fred Hersch and Anat Cohen (photo credit unknown)|
It is a rare treat when you get a chance to hear two such accomplished and nuanced musicians work together in a live setting. Hersch is no stranger to the duet format. In 1997 he recorded The Duo Album which featured a series of duets with Jim Hall, Kenny Barron, Lee Konitz, Tom Harrell, Gary Burton, Tommy Flanagan, Joe Lovano, Dianna Krall and Janis Siegel. But it is one thing to perform a single song as a duet and a whole different endeavor to record an entire album with another artist and no supporting rhythm section. The communication has got to be flawless and the intuition nearly telepathic. With Anat Cohen and Fred Hersch live in Healdsburg, which was released March 9, 2018 on Anzic Records, the two seemed to have accomplished this feat in spades.
The album was superbly recorded by Steve Moon at the Raven Performing Arts Theater in Healdsburg, CA on June 11, 2016. The music is simply sublime. The compositions covered included Hersch’s “A Lark,” “ Child’s Song,” and “Lee’s Dream,” Cohen’s “The Purple Piece,” and four classics, Strayhorn’s “Isfahan,” Ellington’s “Mood Indigo,” Waller’s “ “Jitterbug Waltz,” and Jimmy Rowles “The Peacocks.” The chemistry these two have is just combustible in a very positive way. Hersch is generally the lead off batter in this ball game with Cohen adding her considerable technique and aplomb in exquisite counterpoint.
On the opener “A Lark,” Hersch creates a, crystalline intro before Cohen sails onto the scene like the songbird in flight floating on thermals. The two have more than a conversation, their instruments embrace like two dancers in perfect unison; two bodies merging into one, no longer separated by space or time. The effect is quite moving, never a note out of place, never a swerve or misstep.
The two repeat this empathetic embrace throughout the program, dancing, swirling, playfully challenging each other, interchanging ideas in the moment, using the melodies of the songs as mere armatures upon which to spin magical interludes, to create unexpected conversations. Hersch’s piano is delicate, melodic and gorgeous. Cohen’s clarinet is mellow, fluttering and warm-toned with moments of burnished luster. The audience is quietly enraptured, reverential to the art, it’s presence only made aware by a spontaneous eruption of applause at the end of each selection.
My favorite selections include the aforementioned “A Lark,” Cohen’s movingly played “The Purple Piece,” a jaunty rendition of Strayhorn’s “Isfahan” which Cohen plays with marvelous tonal purity and a lingering vibrato.
I’m particularly fond of Jimmy Rowles” The Peacocks” which maybe the tour de force of expression on this album. The two find the haunting song a wellspring of inspiration. Hersch with his delicately dancing notes and magically light touch and Cohen with her resonantly long lingering lines. She shows her prodigious technique slurring with exquisite precision, hanging notes in the dense air like deliciously ripened grapes off a vine. She exploits the hollow wooden timbre of her instrument to great effect. The mood these two set is like walking you through an enchanted forest.
Fats Waller “Jitterbug Waltz” is delightfully playful. Hersch and Cohen obviously enjoy themselves reveling in the endless possibilities this spirited song can elicit. The two tease you with a little minuet of notes finding inventive ways to reimagine the Waller melody.
The program ends with a slow moody rendering of Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” with Cohen showing her most sensitive side, taking on the role that Barney Bigard invented with Ellington.
With a musical repertoire that should please anyone, Anat Cohen and Fred Hersch Live in Healdsburg is a musical masterpiece that will be enjoyed for the ages.