TERRY GROSS, host:
Jazz musician Anat Cohen was born in Tel Aviv, attended Berkeley College in Boston, and now lives in New York. Shes been playing saxophone since her teens. But these days she focuses on clarinet, an instrument shes been playing even longer. Her new album salutes swing clarinetist Benny Goodman.
Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has a review.
(Soundbite of song, St. Louis Blues)
KEVIN WHITEHEAD: W.C. Handys St. Louis Blues, played by Anat Cohens quartet. Shes one of numerous 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 Apples most prestigious basement.
(Soundbite of applause)
WHITEHEAD: For her 2009 week, she paid tribute to her early clarinet hero Benny Goodman with Goodman, or at least that he recorded once while backing Billie Holiday.
Heres Cohen on What a Little Moonlight Can Do.
(Soundbite of song, What a Little Moonlight Can Do)
WHITEHEARD: For a moment there, Anat Cohen quotes a classic New Orleans solo on "High Society" that every clarinetist used to know. She likes it enough to work it in again later. This musics from Cohens Clarinetwork: Live at the Village Vanguard, 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.
(Soundbite of song, "St. James Infirmary)
WHITEHEAD: "St. James Infirmary - not a Benny Goodman favorite, but all right. At this point in jazz history, honoring past masters like him seems all too easy, almost a default position. But Cohen and company treat 1920s and '30s material with a relatively free hand. When the rhythm section gets rolling on "Sweet Georgia Brown," they echo the thunder of John Coltrane's quartet.
(Soundbite of song, "Sweet Georgia Brown")
WHITEHEAD: Benny Green on piano, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Lewis Nash with Anat Cohen on clarinet. Flexible as that rhythm trio is, they can sound a little hemmed in by the old-school material. True, they all play 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.
GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is a jazz columnist for eMusic.com. He reviewed Clarinetwork: Live at the Village Vanguard by Anat Cohen on the Anzic label. You can hear two tracks on our website freshair.npr.org.