Big and Small Sounds from Anat Cohen Two new offerings show her versatility on clarinet and tenor sax. On Poetica, the Tel Aviv-born New Yorker leads a small jazz combo and a string quartet. Then there's Noir, a CD that celebrates a modified big-band sound.

Big and Small Sounds from Anat Cohen

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Music has always been a family affair for Anat Cohen. As a child, she watched her father toy with the clarinet and was fascinated by the instrument's low notes.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Anat Cohen picked up the clarinet when she was 12 and her new CD "Poetica" shows off the instrument's range of expression. However, the clarinet was just the beginning step in Anat Cohen's musical career. At the age of 16, she took up the saxophone to play big band music at her school in Tel Aviv. Her brothers Avishai, who plays trumpet, and Yuval, a sax player, were also smitten by jazz. And the siblings played bebop in the family's living room.

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HANSEN: This is Anat Cohen's other new CD, "Noir." Here, brothers Avishai and Yuval can be heard. Anat plays both clarinet and a range of saxophones with the Anzic Orchestra.

Ms. ANAT COHEN (Tenor Saxophonist And Clarinetist; "Poetica"): Avishai lives in New York and he was part of the orchestra and Yuval was visiting New York at the same time we recorded. And I said okay, you have to play something on this record. There's no way I'm going to be making a record and you're in town and you're not part of it. So, we found some parts for him to play and I'm very happy about it.

HANSEN: You recently returned from Israel and you played a couple of shows with your brothers. What was that like to return home and play?

Ms. COHEN: For me, it's a dream to play with my two brothers - with Yuval and Avishai. The three Cohens - oh, like my father likes to call us "Three Cohens in the fountain." Some people laugh and some people think, oh my God. This is not funny at all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: It is funny.

Ms. COHEN: Thank you. I'll tell him you liked it.

Playing with Yuval and Avishai for me is a dream because I like to play in horn sessions. I've always, always liked to play in big bands and in ensembles where there is more than one horn. I like to blend with other musicians and to hear the sonority of different instruments together. And playing with my two brothers - all of us that studied - went to the same root in the music and studied some classical music and the same bands as kids and coming from the same place, we have very similar interpretation for music. And although each one of us is interested in different kinds of music today, when we play together, there is some kind of telepathy that is going on.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. COHEN: Before I started to seriously play jazz and to play saxophone, my two brothers were already playing in a big band in my hometown in Tel Aviv. And I like the spirit of the big band, but I like the people sitting in sessions. I like people getting up for solos. I like the cheering, the other people saying yeah, that's great. And there's something loose about it, something creative. People can create riff on the moment and I like the whole spirit.

But when I got to play - to be part of the big band, I realized it's a serious craft to play in a section. If you're in a saxophone section, you listen to the lead alto player and you have to blend. And like any chamber music that you have to understand the person articulation and interpretation. And then there's the lead trumpet that everybody needs to follow and then there's the other momenst that you never know what's going to happen when people solo, so. I like the solo part and I like the section parts just as well.

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HANSEN: There's some very interesting arrangements on "Noir," and your friend Oded Lev-Ari - I hope I pronounced his name right.

Ms. COHEN: Perfect. Oded Lev-Ari.

HANSEN: Yes. He arranged the songs. Were there any surprises for you in his arrangements?

Ms. COHEN: Well, only great surprises. I mean, all the sounds that he got to create out of this - a unique orchestration of this big band. It's a modified big band. We went through the big band tradition where both of us actually played together in high school - in a big band. And, you know, we eliminated the piano - we took a guitar. We added some percussion and we added three cellos, which is very unusual. It was all his idea and his creation and the approach that he had that is not pure big band style. It's coming from all his influences, where he's coming from - everything that he studied in his musical path. And I think he managed to bring so many colors that are unusual for a big band record.

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HANSEN: Talking about your saxophone playing, Nat Hentoff really paid you quite a compliment. He say he heard the soul of Ben Webster in your playing. Was Ben Webster an influence on you?

Ms. COHEN: He was and he still is. Ben Webster - his personality, his sweetness in the sound and his approach to music is really something that is with me always.

HANSEN: Are there other players whose tone you really admire?

Ms. COHEN: Yes, there are many. I like Illinois Jacquet. I like John Coltrane, of course. I like Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins. I like all the - I like Jimmy Forrest, you know, Hank Mobley. I like a lot of different kinds of approaches to sound. From the more airy sound of Stan Getz to the more Texas style, and in different moments I like to use different effects.

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HANSEN: You play tenor, alto, soprano sax on "Noir." On your other CD, "Poetica," you play exclusively clarinet. Does your approach to music differ when you're playing the clarinet and when you're playing the saxophone?

Ms. COHEN: I think there is difference of an approach, but it's funny because I just had a conversation about it with my brother, Avishai. And we realized that there really shouldn't be. That the music that I hear, that I want to deliver is - that's the music and its regardless to any instrument that I play. But, of course, when I play the saxophone, there's so much tradition to this instrument, to the tenor saxophone. And so many musicians that I checked out and I hear all the time, I - of course, I hear less clarinet players because there aren't as many. Since I don't often hear clarinet players, I just bring whatever I hear from wherever it is. I just bring it out.

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HANSEN: There's a John Coltrane tune squeezed into your CD, "Poetica," and you're playing it on clarinet. How did "Lonnie's Lament" sit into the context of that recording?

Ms. COHEN: For me, to play "Lonnie's Lament" on the tenor sax, it's almost impossible. John Coltrane is a very big influence on me, and his sound and his deep spirit is always around when I play the saxophone. And when I play the clarinet as well, and taking "Lonnie's Lament," one of Coltrane's songs and one of the songs that I've loved for many years, and giving it a treatment with the clarinet, for me, I mean, I really got a kick out of it because it's not like trying to sound like Coltrane. It's really trying to touch the soul and the spirit - the African spirit. We use the African rhythm when we got to the core of the song so it's a very different approach than just trying to play it with a tenor saxophone as a jazz quartet.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Having grown up in Israel, was it hard to escape the influence of Klezmer as a clarinetist?

Ms. COHEN: Well, I guess it was and it is because any music that I play - whether I play the music of Louis Armstrong or I play the traditional folk music of Brazil called Choro or any kind of music that I get to play on the clarinet, people ask me if I play Klezmer. So, I guess it's somewhere inside me and it's with me because I heard it as a kid but I never really officially tried to play Klezmer for the sake of playing Klezmer.

HANSEN: Your CD "Poetica," there's several Israeli melodies. Is there one that you really love? That you're fond of?

Ms. COHEN: The song "Hofim (Beaches)" is a song I remember when I was a student at Berklee. And I was just playing it. I used to just practice it in all keys just for the - because I love the melody of it.

(Soundbite of song "Hofim")

HANSEN: Man. I mean, you got the big band on "Noir," small jazz combo, string quartet on "Poetica." You played world music, Israeli melodies, American standards. I mean, what's next for Anat Cohen?

Ms. COHEN: More of everything in a different approach, I think. Each kind of music has so many different sides and elements that you can really go bigger and groovy and heavy or delicate and more classical and I'm not really sure what will be the next one. If it will be a crazy or delicate, I'll let you know as soon as I figure it out.

HANSEN: Anat Cohen. Her CDs "Noir" and "Poetica" are on the Anzic label and she joins us from our New York bureau. Thanks a lot. Good luck.

Ms. COHEN: Thank you so much, Liane.

HANSEN: Anat Cohen and the Anzic Orchestra will appear for a seven-night run at the Village Vanguard in New York beginning July 2nd. You can hear full cuts from both "Poetica" and "Noir" on our Web site

This is WEEKEND EDITION form NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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