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There have been several illustrious three-member sibling jazz bands over the years - the Heath brothers and the Jones threesome all made their mark through the golden age of jazz in the 1940s and 1950s and beyond. Some of them are still around and making sweet music today. But - with all due respect to the aforementioned titans of the jazz fraternity - the Cohens siblings are "our very own".
Saxophonist Yuval, saxophonist-clarinetist Anat and trumpeter Avishai Cohen (in descending chronological order) have been spinning their familial musical magic for over five years now. Anat and Avishai (not to be confused with the acclaimed bass player of the same name) have been making a splash on the New York scene for half a dozen or so years, while Yuval is one of the mainstays of the local jazz community, and recently released his debut album as leader. This Saturday and Sunday, the Cohens will combine their formidable sibling talents and energies at two concerts, at Avi Hai House in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv's Stricker Auditorium respectively.
Given the improvisatory nature of the genre, it is not surprising to hear most jazz musicians talking about band members listening to each other and feeding off each other on stage. According to Anat, the Cohens have a head start in that department. "We have a sort of telepathy and empathy that, maybe, you only find among family members," she offers. "We don't really have to tell each other what direction we're about to take. We all instinctively listen to each other and sense what is happening."
That go-with-the-flow mindset will, no doubt, be used to good effect here when the siblings play material from their upcoming second album, as well as some more rootsy stuff. "We are all from here so playing Jewish music comes naturally to us," says Yuval. "We grew up listening to the Yiddish songs our parents liked and we'll probably fit some of that in the shows. We're also looking at doing some jazzy versions of songs by Hava Alberstein and Arik Einstein. There are some really good things to work on from the Israeli songbook." And it's a two-way street. "We may very well combine some Jewish inflections and rhythms in our jazz compositions too."
Anat believes the gene connection also come through strongly in the way the Cohens sound as a unit. "As we all play horns, it's not always easy to get them to blend right. I think one of the unique things about us is that we manage to get all three horns - often that means soprano saxophone, trumpet and clarinet - to sound like a single instrument. You don't find that very often." And there's plenty of support on offer. "When you accompany a soloist one of the tricks is to make the leader sound even better. We do that naturally."
While jazz definitively requires the players to combine and accommodate each other, in practice that doesn't always happen. "Sometimes egos get in the way, but with us that never happens. We're always there for each other. That gives us quite an advantage over a lot of other groups."
Still, the Cohens have grown up and left the nest. While Anat and Avishai ply their trade with a great deal of success Stateside, Yuval is based in Tel Aviv and swims in a far smaller - and different - pond. That, presumably, might impinge on the sibling's inherent common language. "Yes, all three of us play in different kinds of bands, and feed off different sounds and energies," Anat continues, "but when we get back together I still feel we know exactly where each other is coming from. Anyway, it's not so much where you live and play physically but what is going on inside you. Yuval is always open and keen to learn new things. I think that's the great thing about playing jazz. You're always moving forward. When you do that as individual that great, but when you do that with your brothers that's even more rewarding."
The three Cohens will perform at Avi Hai House in Jerusalem on May 26 at 10:15 p.m., and at the Stricker Auditorium in Tel Aviv on May 27 at 8:30 p.m.