Anat Cohen is probably our most successful jazz export. Over the past two-plus decades, the 46-year-old Israeli-born, New York-resident reed player has firmly cemented her place as one of the leading lights of the global jazz circuit.
During that time she has accumulated an impressive haul of accolades and awards, regularly coming out top of the pile in critics’ and readers’ polls of DownBeat magazine, the jazz world’s leading publication.
She was nominated for a Grammy in 2017, for “Outra Coisa: The Music Of Moacir Santos,” together with longtime collaborator Marcello Gonçalves, a renowned Brazilian seven-string guitar player, in the Best Latin Jazz Album category. She chalked up a second nomination that year in the Best World Music Album category, for “Rosa Dos Ventos” which she recorded with Trio Brasileiro. She followed that up two years later with a third nomination for “Triple Helix,” in the Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album category.
With that in mind – and considering that Cohen hasn’t been back here since before the pandemic struck – her forthcoming August 7 (8:30 p.m.) date with Gonçalves at Tzavta 1 in Tel Aviv is cause for celebration, and not a little excitement among local jazz faithfuls and fans of Latin sounds.
Add to that the fact that the duo will base most of the gig on material on their latest album, Reconvexo, with the title track a salute to feted Brazilian guitarist-composer Caetano Veloso, and – to borrow from late irrepressible British New Wave singer-songwriter Ian Dury – here you have yet another reason to be cheerful.
Reconvexo is quite simply a delightful release, chock full of sumptuous, harmonious, emotive lyrical passages and rhythmic insouciant-sounding departures. It is also clear that Cohen and Gonçalves get on well, musically and personally. You don’t get this quality of nip-and-tuck delivery without a strong dosage of mutual simpatico vibe. All of which augurs well for the Tzavta gig.
Cohen says that the record is yet another example of positive pandemic fallout, and a healthy proactive decision. “I went to Rio [de Janeiro] in March 2020, when everything started, with the lockdowns and all that,” she recalls. “I thought, everything is being canceled: I’ll go to Rio for a while.”
“I went to Rio [de Janeiro] in March 2020, when everything started, with the lockdowns and all that,”Anat Cohen, Jazz musician
Little did she know but that “while” was to develop into a lengthy, and ultimately fruitful sojourn. “I thought that, maybe, I’d be there for a couple of months. I didn’t know the whole world was going to shut down.”
The two months stretched and stretched as Cohen found herself marooned in Brazil – although, in fact, she was happy to stay on. She made the most of her enforced layover and took the opportunity to dive into the multifarious seams of Brazilian music, an area of music-making she had already been exploring for some time.
The extended absence away from the Big Apple also spawned Reconvexo. “All those great Brazilian musicians, they are really the spirit and culture – and historians – of Brazil,” Cohen pointed out. “The material we recorded comes from artists who are really poets. They have been portraying Brazil since back in the 1950s and 1960s.
“You can follow the country’s history through the lyrics of the songs,” she said. “These people, songwriters, are very important – and people in Brazil know these songs.” And now Cohen and Gonçalves are bringing us the spirit, colors, flavors and spices of Latin America.
It also helped to have “a local” on board for the creative ride. “Marcello grew up on these songs,” Cohen continues, noting that the pandemic constraints actually helped to provide them with a close up of the emotional and musical machinations at play.
“During the lockdowns these wonderful musicians put on home concerts, in their own living room,” she says. “Suddenly we were there, in this intimate situation, and the musicians rose even further in importance. Caetano Veloso did live online shows, and others like Gilberto Gil did, too.”
It was also a reminder of the riches to be had there. “Suddenly Marcello said we should do something with this incredible material,” Cohen says. The guitarist did not exactly hang around. “Marcello started working on the arrangements and, one day, he told me: ‘OK. We’re going into the studio on Sunday, to record.’ So we started recording.”
It took a while to lay down all the tracks but, as Cohen and many others have realized, besides all the existential and logistical challenges of the pandemic restrictions, there were also unexpected rewards to be reaped. “We recorded over a period of several months,” she says. “We didn’t have anywhere to rush off to. We couldn’t really go anywhere, so we had time to get the job done. There was no pressure of time.”
Judging by the nine cuts on Reconvexo, Cohen and Gonçalves used their time well. The guitarist says it was an opportunity that simply couldn’t and shouldn’t be missed. “I’ve been dreaming of Anat singing those words through her clarinet,” he said, “imagining how her unique way of interpreting melodies would powerfully convey the message of the lyrics to anyone familiar with them, even when played instrumentally.”
Gonçalves also says he was well and truly inspired by his iconic compatriot artists’ living room sets. “Each one of these concerts reminded me of songs that I could play with Anat, so this project made even more sense to be done at this moment.”
Despite the lengthy recording continuum, there is a sense of freshness to the album. That, says Cohen, is partly due to Gonçalves’s secretive tactics. “Marcello did not want to tell me which songs we would be recording. It was a surprise for me!” she laughs. “Marcello translated the lyrics for me, told me about the spirit of each song and where the high points were, and what the idea behind the arrangement was. And we just recorded. It worked so well.”
It certainly did. If Cohen and Gonçalves manage to impart the feel of their recording sessions, along with the spirit of the original charts, we are in for a treat over at Tzavta.
For tickets and more information: (03) 695-0156 and https://www.tzavta.co.il/shows