Friday, April 22, 2011

SPLITTING THE BILL

Anat Cohen photo by John Rodgers

At Orchestra Hall yesterday evening, the Anat Cohen quartet played a double bill with the Hot Club of Detroit. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough people there to take in the best concert of this year’s Paradise Jazz Series. The HCD performed first. They played songs from their self-titled first album and their current project “It’s About That Time”. 

For years, the HCD has been Detroit’s hottest jazz group, and they’ve built a national following. On the stage, they look like frat-brothers. They’ve put their spin on what’s known as gypsy jazz. Last night, when they performed “It’s About That Time,” they showed how modern and creative they truly are.

The HCD opened ‘It’s About That Time,” with guitarists Evan Perri and Paul Brady passing pieces of the melody back and forth like cheat sheets. After bassist Andrew Kratzat soloed, saxophonist Carl Cafagna rose. He added several choruses of Charles Mingus’ “Nostalgia in Time Square”. It was the highpoint of the HCD’s set. Cafagna an unsung in Detroit. The city is full of brilliant sax players. Cafagna has horsepower. He always uses that power prudently. Never going overboard when soloing and improvising.

Sadly, last night’s set was his last with the HCD for a while. Their touring has picked up. Cafagna is a family man foremost. Touring has taken its toll. He isn’t putting away his horns for good. He will still run his own band and gig with the Metro Jazz Voices. But, with Cafagna gone and until HCD finds a suitable replacement (which will be difficult), the HCD will be like a Bentley without doors.

Anat Cohen followed the HCD. In 2005, Anzic Records made public “Place and Time,” Cohen’s first recording. Since then, the clarinet player has been praised by some noted jazz reporters. Cohen brought a colorful band to Orchestra Hall bassist Joe Martin, drummer Daniel Freedman and pianist Jason Linder.

Cohen’s guys were playful. Freedman is more of a free jazz drummer. The audience was thrilled watching. Freedman played the drums with his hand and his right elbow on “All Brothers”. Cohen is equally playful.
She’s a spirited boss. When her guys soloed, she gravitated to them, egging them on. Cohen is in the same league as fellow clarinet players Wendell Harrison and the late Pee Wee Russell. 

Cohen ended her set by inviting the HDC back on stage to play Django Reinhart’s ditty “Minor Swing”. It was freewheeling, and the audience ate it up. The only shortcoming was the bands blazed through the sets. The sets should’ve been longer. After Cohen signed autographs, she said she isn’t accustom to playing short sets. She wished her band was given more time. Neither band wasted what little time they had.
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