Anat COHEN, Marcello GONCALVES, Trio Brasileiro: Outra Coisa & Rosa Dos Ventos – Anzic

Anat COHEN & Marcello GONCALVES: Outra Coisa: “The Music of Moacir Santos” – Anzic 0055, 46:45 (4/28/17) *****:

Anat COHEN & Trio Brasileiro: Rosa Dos Ventos – Anzic 0057, 48:40 (4/28/17) ****:

Anat Cohen fronts two small ensembles on a double release of stupendously creative and exciting music which draws its inspiration from choro, jazz and the compositions of Moacir Santos.

Among Anat Cohen’s bona fides in the jazz world are 8 Down Beat Clarinetist of the Year Awards. As exalted as she is modern jazz scene, she would, by her own account, prefer to play Brazilian music. She has made a deep study of the older tradition of Chorinho, which is characterized by a lively rhythms and sophisticated compositions. Like its nearest period equivalent, Ragtime, it relies on embellishment of melodies rather than long passages of improvisation. It is inevitable, however, that Anat Cohen would expand the range of the older form with all manner of improvisational vitality. Yet in the end she is an authentic and especially joyful expression of this pre-bossa nova idiom.

On Rosa dos Ventos, Ms. Cohen collaborates with Trio Brasileiro on a dozen charts which have one foot in the compositional style of Chorinho and the other stretching out to jazz. Two thirds of the trio is made up brothers, Douglas (7 string guitar) and Alexandre Lora (percussion and hand pans). The former is a classically trained guitarist of considerable technical prowess who has made a recording of the Bach flute partitas (played by Maria Piccinnini) on which he arranged the continuo parts for two guitars. Joining them is Dudu Maia, maestro of the 10 string bandolim. All twelve charts are originals by members of the group. Some like Para voce, uma Flor, contain long intricate lines with lilting old-school phrases and melodies doubled by one or both plucked instruments and the clarinet. These tricky unisons are carried out with effortless and sometimes breathless fluidity. Valsa du Sul  by Cohen is a choro-waltz with a dizzying swirl of unisons. The first more meditative number features Alexandre Lora’s mesmerizing hand pans. These blend in the most pleasing way with the bandolim and the almost oboe-like purity of the clarinet that floats heavenward above the hypnotic groove. It is a surpassingly beautiful tune and a departure from the almost excessively cheerful bounce of the standard Choro fare.

With Rosa dos Ventos, we might wonder if the medium tempo bustle with its relentless paired melodies will wear us out; the ceaseless upper register virtuosity of the clarinet seems becomes almost too insistent at times.  But Teimosa pares things down to clarinet and guitar for its moody theme, afterwhich the bandolim offers some consoling commentary on a bridge.  (Dudu Maia is a master of tone on this oversized mandolin.) On the reprise, the duo refuses any concession to nostalgia or sweetness, and the piece ends with keening klezmer intonations on a dark minor chord. It is a spectacular tune.

Das Neves starts off with the typical Bandolim riffs and swing, but if you are a non-musician, I challenge you to figure out this compelling time signature. O Ocidente que se Oriente is the most exotic track with hand pans and droning ostinato against what sounds like tabla. Anat ventures out on a flying carpet of pan echoes and spacious open chords with a simple but affecting solo. This for me is the highlight of the session and shows that this group will not be confined to the chorinho tradition. Choro pesado, a traditional sounding number with bright unisons, and the final Lulubia show the group in relaxed report. There is no sense of exertion as the music flows between instruments. Yet not much is asserted compositionally and it feels like a descent from the glorious heights of the middle of the record.

As good as Rosa Dos Ventos is, our second release, Outra Coisa is even better. This project is the inspiration of Marcello Gonsalves, who also accompanies Anat Cohen on the 7-string guitar. It involves a reworking of the orchestral sounds of Moacir Santos’ compositions for the minimal arrangement of guitar and clarinet.

Immediately, the pieces seem to have more dimension and expressive reach than its companion release. If Gonsalves is less the virtuoso than Douglas Lora, he is nevertheless a compelling musician alert to every nuance of the music which requires contrapuntal and harmonic sophistication, as well as velocity and swing. Perhaps, the most attractive feature of these works is that the arrangements feature the clarinet in the deeper chalumeau register. It is here that the tonal splendor of the Israeli reed player is shown to best advantage. Moreover, slow pieces maintain a perfect tension without leaning on sentiment or simple pleasures of the major-seventh chords. Rather what prevails is an almost Fado tinged melancholy filtered through an ECM-like predilection for space and texture. (One wonders if Anat Cohen will follow her brother Avishai into Manfred Eicher’s legendary studio)

The masterpiece here is Coisa no. 6. Marcello’s bottom string (dropped to an A) is deeply resonant like a theorbo. On a gentle 4/4 pulse with off-beat chords, a melody arises from the quietest reaches of the clarinet. It is a thing of wonder, a hard won economy of notes and a stunning timbral control. Notions of style and genre drop away as the piece modestly moves across its form without any urge to raise its voice from a low whisper. At this point too, that we can hear how perfectly the sound image has been constructed with both instruments in focus.

If this piece sets a standard for duo perfection, then it is nearly matched by two other compositions which have something of the same crepuscular mood but each with its own formal elegance, Nana (Coisa no. 5 and Coisa no. 9). Just once, on Mae Iracema, Marcello bends his fingers to break-neck speed while Anat wails at the top of her instrument on a spinning riff which fragments into a dazzling solo. After that, the clarinet slides down to the amber low register for more thoughtful melodic colloquy with its ever-articulate 7 string companion.

This astonishingly beautiful session comes to an end altogether too soon at 46:45 with two intimate pieces. Paraiso and a fleeting Carrossel. The latter is all sotto voce, but there is neither somnolence nor dreams but rather a rapt attention to, or contemplation of, beauty. Marcello Gonsalves explains in the notes that he spent one year making these arrangements. The care he took on these orchestrations is evident on every number. This is the farthest thing from the jam session on familiar tunes. It is radiant with musical intelligence and communicates perfectly with what should be a wide and deeply appreciative audience. A most memorable recording.

TrackList:
Rosa Dos Ventos:
Baiao da Esperanca
Para Voce, uma flor
Ijexa
Valsa do Sul
Flamenco
Sambale
Rosa dos Ventos
Teimosa
Das Neves
O Ocidente que se OrienteChoro Pesado

Outra Coisa: 
Amphibious
Coisa no. 1
Outra Coisa
Coisa no. 6
Coisa no. 10
Nana
Coisa no. 9 Mae Iracema
Odudua
Maracatucute
Paraiso
Carrossel

—Fritz Balwit

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