Anat Cohen, an Israeli-born New Yorker often found working in Latin bands, seems intent on leaving no jazz style unexplored. Whether on tenor saxophone essaying the opening melody of Cuban drummer Francisco Mela's straight-ahead "John Ramsay" from his 2006 album Melao (Ayva) or soloing on clarinet with the Brazilian Choro Ensemble, Cohen seems to intuitively absorb the musical language she's engaged in. With a burgeoning reputation preceding her and two new albums in tow, she comes to Yoshi's this week, performing alongside guitarist Vic Juris and drummer Daniel Freedman. Special guest pianist Jason Lindner, Cohen's longtime colleague and mentor, will sit in on June 6.
Earlier this year Cohen released Poetica, a sensuous, clarinet-based album augmented with a string quartet, simultaneously with Noir, a film scoreready big-band full-length on which she played mostly saxophone. She produced both records and released them on her up-and-coming independent label, Anzic.
Cohen spoke by phone from Tel Aviv, where she was preparing for a concert with her two brothers, saxophonist Yuval and trumpet player Avishai. The latter sat in with the SFJAZZ Collective this spring when Dave Douglas was unavailable.
She laughed about releasing two albums at once, saying it has raised eyebrows even though that wasn't her intent. "They're very different, but it just makes sense to put them out together because they show different musical adventures for me," she said. "Different musical personalities on the instruments and different approaches to the music."
She began Noir almost a year before Poetica, but the big-band recording was more complex to put together. Cohen and coproducer Oded Lev-Ari, who wrote the arrangements, had gathered some musicians to try the music out. The results sounded good, and they wanted to record it, but they needed more music to complete the album.
"It's a longer process, obviously, because it's a 15-piece band, and it just takes longer to write everything," Cohen said. The tunes are a travelogue of cultures reflecting Cohen's journeys that opens with Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona's "La Comparsa," touches on Sun Ra and Hobart Dotson's "You Never Told Me That You Care," and closes with music by a couple of Brazilian icons: Hermeto Pascual's "Bebe!" and Pixinguinha's "Ingênuo." There are also American pop songs such as "Cry Me a River" and "No Moon at All."
During the making of Noir, Cohen decided she'd like to make a clarinet album and enlisted friend and bassist Omer Avitale to write string arrangements. Poetica includes the old Israeli songs "Hofim" and "Eyn Gedi," the Jacques Brel song "La Chanson des Vieux Amants," and a lush arrangement of John Coltrane's "Lonnie's Lament."
Cohen called Coltrane her "constant inspiration." "I've tried along my musical path to really be open," she explained. "I have, of course, a passion for the traditionals of the American songbook and the American art form called jazz. But I also fell in love along the way with a lot of world music."
She's the only non-Brazilian member of the Choro Ensemble but has toured the country several times, taking the opportunity to learn its language, culture, and music.
She's also immersed herself in the rich musical heritages of Venezuela and Colombia. "I got stuck in Colombia during 9/11, and I couldn't come back to New York," Cohen recalled. "I stayed there for three weeks, and I learned so much about Colombian music.