On Friday night, Lawrence University’s Memorial Chapel was graced with an invigorating performance by the Anat Cohen Quartet. This was the fourth installment of the 2018-2019 jazz series put on by the University. Earlier this year, the Regina Carter Quartet, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and the Nicole Mitchell Quartet performed in this series and put on spectacular shows for the school.
Cohen’s quartet consisted of herself on clarinet, Vitor Gonçalves on piano, Orlando le Fleming on bass and Daniel Freedman on drums. From the minute Cohen stepped on stage, she lit up the chapel. She hadn’t even said a word, but she exuded a welcoming, warm presence in the space. Fun and light-hearted, she had an aura of nonchalance that prepared the audience for the show the group was about to put on.
The first song started bubbling, breaking into an energetic melody and bursting with life. From the get-go, the audience latched onto Cohen’s infectious vibrancy she had on stage. She did not stray away from the occasional dance break. She would sway with her playing, channeling her music and rhythm. Her presence was absolutely mesmerizing and it captivated the audience the whole show.
The second song transitioned smoothly with a solo from Gonçalves on piano without a break between pieces. Cohen continued to inspire with her technical skills; she often wielded her clarinet with just one hand, intensifying her connection with her instrument. Her playing felt honest, more of an extension of herself than anything else, which was really unique to see in person. Soon, the song slid into a funk breakdown. It swelled into a chaotic harmony, closely followed by a drastic tempo change and faded into a soft duet between Cohen and Gonçalves. This switch was subtle and it utilized the acoustics of the chapel sounding entirely lovely. The ballad was soulful, slow and left the audience feeling as though they were mourning a love they never even had.
The first three songs worked as one continuous song, slowly melding into one other. The quartet then took a quick break while Cohen introduced the whole group. The members were from around the globe. Freedman is from New York City, Gonçalves from Rio de Janeiro, le Fleming from England and Cohen herself is from Israel, although she is currently based in New York City.
The next song they played was a Fats Waller cover, “The Jitterbug Waltz.” In their rendition, the Brazilian samba roots came through strongly, but every so often they were contrasted with a hard jazz swing they played to break up the song. In this second half of the concert, the communication between the players was fascinating to watch. They were just so good at it! Even they didn’t know exactly where they were going with the music. They would just let the music take them where it wanted to go, and they were able to do this because they were so in sync with one another. It went from Cohen to Gonçalves, from Gonçalves to Freedman, then from Freedman to le Fleming, and every other way it could have gone and created this circle of understanding. Their playing felt like an easy conversation between them all.
After they finished their last song, the audience was not satisfied and cheered for an encore, to which the quartet happily obliged to.
Cohen had met with a few students during the day in the Conservatory and pronounced her excitement about hearing the young students’ passion for playing. She also avidly promoted the kind of communication music gives to people and confidently said she could see it in Lawrence’s students. To quote the clarinetist, “Music rocks!”