The jazz group 3 Cohens have an unusual story in jazz. The Israeli-born siblings all have successful, critically-acclaimed careers. Anat is an accomplished clarinetist/saxophonist who has won the Jazz Journalists’ “Clarinetist of the Year” award five years running, and this year won the DownBeat Critics Polls in the “Clarinetist of the Year” and “Rising Star/Soprano” categories. Trumpeter Avishai (not to be confused with the bassist), a member of SF Jazz Collective and Traveni, has several recordings to his credit. Yuval, a soprano sax player and educator, has played with Lee Konitz, Lew Soloff, Arnie Lawrence, and Reggie Workman. Family is the third recording for 3 Cohens.
On this recording, the Cohens are accompanied by several well-known musicians. Pianist Aaron Goldberg has made a name for himself as a leader and sideman for Joshua Redman, Terry Gibbs and Buddy DeFranco (if his name sounds familiar, this is the same Aaron Goldberg whose song, “OAM Blues” is featured in the sampler music of Windows Vista systems). Bassist Matt Penman has played with Redman and Brad Mehldau, and drummer Gregory Hutchinson has toured with Betty Carter and Roy Hargrove.
There haven’t been many family ensembles in the history of jazz; one thinks of the Marsalis clan and the Brubecks, of course. Django Reinhardt’s brother played rhythm guitar, but Joseph Reinhardt’s contribution isn’t the chief reason why the Hot Club of France is remembered. So it’s somewhat rare that three family members with this degree of skill have come together.
It’s always interesting to note what non-native jazz musicians bring to this deeply American art form. Ties to Israeli or Jewish roots in this CD are indirect or subtle. In their song selection (“The Mooch”, “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans”, “Tiger Rag”, “Roll ‘Em Pete”), the Cohens show a deep sense for the history and range of jazz.
“Shufla De Shufla” (an Aramaic term meaning “Best of the Best” and a wordplay using the idea of “shuffle” time) is a slice of Charles Mingus and Horace Silver-influenced funk swing. Avishai, who has played with several Mingus-legacy bands, counts Charles Mingus as a primary influence. Avishai, Yuval, Anat (on tenor), and Goldberg take solos on this catchy tune. Anat’s arrangement of the well-worn “Tiger Rag” brings some unexpected elements, including some calypso rhythm, Middle-Eastern type chord changes, and a brief mariachi-charged section. It also gives her a chance to shine on her clarinet solo.
“Blues for Dandi’s Orange Bull Chasing an Orange Sack,” written by Yuval in honor of his daughter, begins with a slow Goldberg piano solo that gradually speeds up and turns into an up-tempo blues number. “Rhapsody in Blake,” a fast-paced bebop romp composed by Yuval based on the chords of “I Hear a Rhapsody,” begins with a solo from Goldberg. It then moves into intertwining solos among the three siblings and a drum solo from Hutchinson. The Cohens give “Do You know What it Means to Miss New Orleans“ a Latinized treatment.
The great vocalist Jon Hendricks joins them on vocals for two songs. I have tremendous respect for his body of work as scat singer extraordinaire and the co-creator of vocalese. I must consider this collaboration a mixed blessing, though. Like many older singers, he’s lost vocal range and nimbleness and tries to cover with exaggerated phrasing and heightened lyric interpretation. He can pull it off better than many, since his sense of humor has always been one of his weapons, but my tolerance for the tradeoff varied from listen to listen.
It’s a bit tricky–maybe foolhardy–to speculate how family dynamics play out in this endeavor, but I’ll give it a shot. First, the players do seem to be particularly in sync (of course, we all know families where the opposite would occur, but that’s another issue). They all seem to have a keen sense of the history of the music. Finally, although they play different instruments, they seem to combine virtuosity with a warmth of sound, albeit with some modern touches. Avishai’s tone seems to come from the Fats Navarro-Clifford Brown school of melodic bebop playing. Anat’s tenor playing is also warm, though she’ll sometimes inject a hard-edged Texas style passage in her solos. Yuval has a rich, melodic style on soprano, but he adds some latter-day Coltrane-ish touches. This combination of factors makes Family an interesting, thoughtful, enjoyable collaboration.