There was exuberance – the kind among families who all know the same joke — Saturday afternoon on the Crystal Ballroom. stage as the 3 Cohens lit up the big, airy Portland music space with their new-wave originals and updated standards. A new, and yet unnamed CD, will follow soon, and it was clear some of the pieces we heard came from that.
In the closing weekend of the Portland Jazz Festival 2011,themed “Bridges and Boundaries: Jewish and African Americans Playing Jazz,” the Israeli-born siblings on horns and reeds were each too accomplished and affectionate to upstage one another. Instead, synchronicity and democracy dominated the 90-minute set with the gifted sidemen wedging in solos as well.
As Anat Cohen, far more than a whiz on on the clarinet and tenor saxophone, said in an earlier interview from her home in Brooklyn, N.Y., ” Music is the passion we share. It’s one of the highest forms of intimacy when you can play together.”
And so it was.
Yuval, the elder son on the soprano sax (with a law degree in his back pocket), traveled from Israel to join his brother and sister and remarked that “Portland was uplifting” after spending much of his North American time on the East Coast, where Anat and trumpeter brother Avishai live.Several of Yuval’s pieces — each Cohen composes — were featured, including a stirring “Rhapsody in Bleak” and ”Freedom” (from the 2007 album, “Braid”).
Trumpeter Avishai, also a member of SF JAZZ Collective in which he played four hours later, can do dreamy and snarly on his edgy trumpet. He led off an arrangement of a Mingus piece. “To have fun, that is kind of our way,” he said as he clutched his horn to his chest, ready to blow hard on Duke Ellington’s 1928 “The Mooche,” which of course, the mostly grey-haired audience went crazy for.
Anat’s clarinet soared high and clean behind the rhythm section of Aaron Goldberg (piano, who plays with Joshua Redman today) and SF JAZZ Collective members drummer Eric Harland and bassist Matt Penman. Her “Tfila” (Prayer) from “Braid” was as beautiful and brooding as brothers’ horn work.
There is nothing flashy — only fun and breathtaking — about the Cohens. They are a stairstep-aged group, all with the same mother and father, as Yuval says, who are creating an exciting, energetic sound that nags at the bounds of all kinds of music.
These 30-something siblings have played together since childhood in Tel-Aviv at the Thelma Yalin High School for the Arts and Jaffa Conservatory of Music. Each Cohen won a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Their highly trained chops pay off in a blend of three horns that really know each other, like brothers and sisters sometimes do.