To make this album, Tightrope, with virtually just reeds, woodwinds and brass takes courage. To pull it off requires a very large measure of ingenuity. And if anyone should have a surfeit of that quality it would be the 3 Cohens—saxophonist and clarinetist Anat Cohen and her brothers soprano saxophonist Yuval Cohen and trumpeter Avishai. Each are successful musicians in their own right, with many critically acclaimed to their credit—both individually and together. But together they are something else. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that they are siblings, but that is only part of it. There is a secret, invisible almost gossamer-like braid that binds one to the other to the quick and this is purely musical; where it becomes a magical triple-helix. Anat Cohen is transcendentally bound in to a phrase by Yuval Cohen, who is able to anticipate where Avishai Cohen will go and so prepares the ground for him as he were foretelling the future of the piece. “Indiana” a piece halfway through the album is a maddeningly beautiful piece that illustrates this aspect of the Cohens’ interaction. The chart begins with an angular version of “(Back Home Again In) Indiana” with Avishai Cohen and Yuval Cohen and clarinetist Anat Cohen carve up the chart with outstanding triangulated counterpoint, which like shifting sands moves almost amorphously until, after six choruses the music begins to break down and by the ninth chorus, “Indiana” morphs magically and ingeniously from the New Orleans of Louis Armstrong into the Miles Davis/Charlie Parker contrafact of Donna-Lee.
There is a lot more to combined musical energy of the 3 Cohens. This is seen in the five “Conversation” pieces that feature the purest form of improvisation and explorations of tone and texture. Each of the five pieces also heralds not only the magnificent interplay between the siblings, but also very advanced polyphony and an exquisite sense of time and space within the musicianship between the players. And then there is the magnetic effect that the three Cohens have on the guest participants. Christian McBride brings an exciting wallop to Duke Ellington’s “Just Squeeze Me,” the high point of which is not only Mr. McBride’s tonal elegance, but also the superb improvisation of Anat, Avishai and Yuval Cohen and the organic melding of the players with each other. “Black” brings drummer Jonathan Blake into the mix and he too gives a fine account of himself. Mr. Blake’s beautiful phrasing added to the outstanding improvisations of the three siblings adds an extraordinary dimension to the piece. The third guest artist is the pianist, Fred Hersch who turns in a stellar performance. The choice of music on which he participates appears to be inspired as it showcases not only his virtuosity (“Estate”), but also his emotional playing (“Song Without Words # 4: Duet”) and his brilliant sense of time (“I Mean You”).
Such repertoire is no accident either. The Cohen family were in all likelihood brought up on everything from Yiddish melodies (“Aililulilu”) to music of advanced polyphony such as the late romantic composers as well as classical and folk music. These three extraordinary performers also absorbed lessons in odd time and breathtaking rhythm by deep listening of swing and Bebop music. The superb version of “Hot House” and the dramatic turn to “Donna Lee” from “Indiana” are telling examples of what must have been in the Cohen household; and this is borne out not only on Tightrope but also on three other albums by the siblings. And then there is the significance of the title, Tightrope. Not only does it suggest approaching the charts without any pre-conceived notions, so that the music is spontaneous and fresh from chart to chart, but there is also the secret suggestion that there is no net below. So that the element of chance is even more admirable not only in picking the right tunes, but executing each of them flawlessly on a record that is sure to stand the test of time through music that is beautiful and enduring.
Track List: Blueport; Conversation #1; Song Without Words #4: Duet; Conversation #2; Black; Just Squeeze Me; Hot House; There’s No You; Estate; Conversation #3; Indiana; I Mean You; It Might As Well; Festive Minor; Conversation #4; Conversation #5; Aililulilu; Mantra.
Personnel: Anat Cohen: tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Yuval Cohen: soprano saxophone; Avishai Cohen: trumpet; Fred Hersch: piano (3, 9, 12); Jonathan Blake: drums (5); Christian McBride: bass (6).
Label: Anzic Records | Release date: October 2013
About the 3 Cohens
The best jazz groups are made up of kindred spirits, but the rare family band has something more – an intuitive feel for each other that goes beyond words and gestures to a kind of bred-in-the-bone telepathy. The 3 Cohens are that sort of uncommon collective, a trio of siblings from Tel Aviv, Israel – tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Anat Cohen, trumpeter Avishai Cohen and soprano saxophonist Yuval Cohen – whose sense of improvisational interplay is both uncannily fluent and wonderfully, infectiously warm. Along with performing on stages the world over, The 3 Cohens have three studio albums to their credit: One (2004), Braid (2007) and Family (2011) and their new album TIghtrope (released October 22, 2013, via Anzic Records). Like the widely praised albums Braid & Family, the new Tightrope was recorded in Brooklyn, and the disc features the three Israeli horn players cobersting freely among themselves with a few guests: pianist Fred Hersch, double-bassist Christian mcBride and drummer Johnathan Blake. Tightrope underscores the fact that even with the individual careers each of the Cohens pursue to increasing international success, there is something special about the music the three make together.
“We can talk without talking,” says Anat, the middle child. “Often, we don’t even have to look at each other onstage. We have such history together that we feel each other through the music.”
Yuval, Anat and Avishai Cohen grew up in Tel Aviv under the same roof and in the same schools, with the common environment helping to shape close musical tastes, approaches and ideas. The three attended the Tel Aviv School for the Arts, the “Thelma Yalin” High School for the Arts and the Jaffa Music Conservatory, their backgrounds including some symphonic orchestral playing. But it was jazz that soon captured their imaginations. Through the World Scholarship Tour, each of the Cohens received the means to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where they expanded their musical horizons. Post-graduation, the trio formed a sextet and performed their original music at the Lodz Jazz Festival in Poland. This was the seed of One, their debut album as The 3 Cohens, recorded in 2003. Since then, The 3 Cohens sextet has ranged from acclaimed appearances at the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival, Caesarea Jazz Party and Givatayim Jazz Festival in Israel to performances at the Tudo é Jazz Festival in Brazil and the JVC and Portland Jazz festivals in the U.S. The 3 Cohens have also played top clubs from Paris, Italy and Australia to the famed Village Vanguard in Manhattan, performing a week-long residency there in 2009.
Acclaim for The 3 Cohens was immediate with the release of One. Reviewing the album, All About Jazz offered extended praise: “What gives The 3 Cohens a certain edge is the simpatico they share, extending beyond merely being siblings; it involves all three sharing the common bond of music from an early age, and the kind of comfort level and intuition that can only come from playing together for many years. The result, whether it’s on the pastoral tinge of `For My Brother and Sister,’ the more incessantly swinging `In Amirim,’ which still manages to hint at a Middle Eastern harmonic sensibility, or the tender ballad `Morning Dream,’ is a front line that finds pleasure in the subtlest nuances. While there are hints of their ethnic heritage, make no mistake – this music is clearly rooted in contemporary post-bop. . . Throughout, a joyfulness pervades these performances.”
Braid, the strikingly mature sophomore release by The 3 Cohens, brims with original compositions of soul and fire, from Avishai’s melodically gorgeous “Gigi et Amelie” and Anat’s elegantly groovy “U-Valley” to Yuval’s showcase for explosive interplay, “Freedom.” Reviewing the album, All About Jazz was again full of enthusiasm, pointing out how the threesome’s “inside jokes, finishing of each others’ sentences and playful sibling rivalries spur the ensemble to refined heights. . . The sextet offers fresh, modern jazz full of energy, daring and emotion.” The New York Times also enthused over the group’s “family sound” and “intuitive counterpoint” before pointing out the players’ individual qualities: “Anat has emerged as one of the best clarinet players in jazz, with a warm and singing tone; Avishai can play bebop and ballad lines and outer-limit trumpet sounds with tireless fluency; and Yuval has a full and relaxed sound on soprano.”
The latest 3 Cohens album, Family, again presents some top-notch originals, including Avishai’s loving title feature for the group’s characteristic three-horn interweave and two Charles Mingus-inflected numbers (Yuval’s “Blues for Dandi’s Orange Bull Chasing an Orange Sack” and Avishai’s “With the Soul of the Greatest of Them All”). The disc also includes a winning take on Duke Ellington’s “The Mooch,” an international retooling of the New Orleans standard “Tiger Rag” and a freshly colored interpretation of “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” born of the group’s great love for and experience with the music of Louis Armstrong. The sextet is joined by iconic vocalist Jon Hendricks for the vintage “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and “Roll ’em, Pete.”
When not working together, each of the Cohens excel individually. Yuval, the eldest, releases his sophomore album – Song Without Words, a duo set with pianist Shai Maestro – on the same day as Family. He recently won Israel’s prestigious Landau Award for his achievements in jazz, and along with being a performer, he is one of his country’s most sought after educators. In 2011, Anat earned her fifth straight Clarinetist of the Year honor at the Jazz Journalist Association Awards, and she topped the 2011 DownBeat Critics Poll as Clarinetist of the Year. A resident of New York City, Anat has toured the world with her quartet, playing the Newport, Umbria, SF Jazz and North Sea jazz festivals as well as the Village Vanguard, where she recorded her fifth album, the live Clarinetwork, with rhythm mates Benny Green, Peter Washington and Lewis Nash (released by Anzic in 2010). Avishai, the youngest Cohen and also a resident of New York, played his own set at the 2011 Newport Jazz Festival, and he also tours widely with the SF Jazz Collective. The trumpeter has released several recordings, including 2010’s lauded Introducing Triveni with bassist Omer Avital and drummer Nasheet Waits, on Anzic. Avishai was a finalist in the 2011 DownBeat Critic’s Poll in the Rising Star: Jazz Artist and Rising Star: Trumpet categories.
Coming back to The 3 Cohens after their individual experiences is a welcome thing for the three musicians. Yuval points to how much fun it is for the siblings to play together simply “because we know each other so well and respect each other so much.” For Avishai, the family band “is probably closest to my heart,” he says. “You get to create music with incredible musicians whom you also know and love unconditionally.”
The leadership role in The 3 Cohens “constantly shifts, with each us of taking turns as leaders depending on the tune and situation,” explains Anat. “We’re democratic about things, so there is a moment for one to shine and the others to support. Because Yuval is the oldest, it was natural for him to be the leading force early on, of course, and we were comfortable following him. Now that we’re adults with our own lives and careers, we each bring our own influences, experience and confidence to the group. It’s an ongoing process to say what we want to say as individuals and still incorporate repertoire into the group that we all feel attuned to. But we work at it. It’s a journey.”
When the Cohens hang out with each other off the bandstand, “we are 100% siblings, with all that implies,” says Anat, with a laugh. “But we have gotten better over the years at looking beyond our sibling relationships to treat each other as artists – whether that’s not being too familial in rehearsal or just not cracking each other up onstage too much. I do think people can hear the love we have for each other, because it comes through in the music. We share so much. To me, the sounds of the trumpet and the soprano saxophone are really the sounds of my brothers, just as the sound of the clarinet for them is me. To keep sharing our music onstage and in the studio is a gift.”