CD REVIEW: Anat Cohen & Fred Hersch - Live in Healdsburg



Anat Cohen & Fred Hersch - Live in Healdsburg
(Anzic Records 0061. CD Review by Leonard Weinreich)

The audience, too transfixed to breathe during performances, erupts into appreciative whoops, hollers and whistles at the end of each number. Is it also expressing its singular luck? Because this privileged bunch has been witnessing the first recorded meeting of two of the most individual voices in jazz: the molten honey tones of Anat Cohen’s clarinet and the profundity of Fred Hersch’s piano. But was the audience aware that it was being introduced to the next level of jazz impressionism?

Piano and clarinet? An entire album? Effete? Boring? Well, yes, yes, but no, no. Cohen and Hersch are virtuosi, a dream duo: imagine combining Astaire & Rogers with Wimbledon mixed doubles champions. Plus a pinch of Thelonious Monk. They’re well-matched artists sharing attitudes, skills and senses of playfulness. Their reaction speed suggests ESP. They perform implausible acrobatics. They invent fresh twists from an inexhaustible source. And they shift between introspective, outrageous, sinewy and tender within a beat, never masking the visceral content of their music.

All is revealed on a live recording at Raven Performing Arts Theatre, Healdsburg, California. One half of the programme features their own compositions: Hersch’s A Lark, Child’s Song and Lee’s Dream and Cohen’s The Purple Piece. The other half takes inspiration from four major impressionistic jazz themes: Billy Strayhorn’s Isfahan, Jimmy Rowles’ The Peacocks, Fats Waller’s Jitterbug Waltz and Duke Ellington’s Mood Indigo.

Hersch occasionally dips into pointillism and even barrelhouse for dramatic and/or witty effect. And Ms Cohen is not above jamming a Delta blues smear tone into a finger-busting legit run. Their staccato fun in A Lark seems to refer more to Great Expectations (“What larks, Pip”) than to feathered flight. The jagged descending dragon’s tail melody of the 76-year-old Jitterbug Waltz appears in mosaic fragments: alternating short, pithy phrases with distant echoes of rent parties. In contrast, their approach to The Peacocks theme (and the exquisite closing clarinet cadenza) is befittingly stately. Jimmy Rowles would have been chuffed.

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