Jazz: The Whammies and Anat Cohen | Bleader

Jazz: The Whammies and Anat Cohen



One of my most anticipated sets at this year's Umbrella Music Festival is Saturday night, when fantastic Boston pianist Pandelis Karayorgis returns to town to front his Chicago-based quintet at the Hideout on Saturday. That band includes bassist Nate McBride, a old partner from their Beantown days together, as well as reedists Dave Rempis and Keefe Jackson and drummer Frank Rosaly; it's one in Karayorgis's long line of collaborations involving Chicagoans. Last month another of those groups, the Whammies, released its first album, and it's a doozy.

The Whammies Play the Music of Steve Lacy is one of the first titles released by Driff, a new label Karayorgis runs with Dutch expat reedist Jorrit Dijkstra—who himself has worked extensively with Chicago players in his Flatlands Collective. The Whammies are Karayorgis, Dijkstra, McBride, former Chicago trombonist Jeb Bishop, and brilliant Dutch drummer Han Bennink (violinist and violinst Mary Oliver plays on four of the album's eight tracks). Dijkstra studied with singular soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy late in Lacy's life, after he returned from decades in Paris to teach at Boston's New England Conservatory of Music, and Bennink played and recorded with Lacy in the 80s—but all of the Whammies have been touched by his art.

Lacy was one jazz's greatest improvisers and musical minds, but his achievements as a composer haven't been celebrated as they should. New York band Ideal Bread has devoted itself to Lacy's music—sometimes creating arrangements from patchworks of different Lacy performances of his own pieces—and the Whammies further demonstrate the appealing malleability of these compositions. Lacy's tunes are usually clear in line and direct in melody, qualities that allow for significant interpretational latitude. I haven't gone back to the Lacy performances of the tunes the Whammies play here (there's also a take on Thelonious Monk's "Locomotive," which makes sense since Lacy played with Monk and formed the first Monk repertoire band with Roswell Rudd in the 60s), but he recorded multiple versions of them, usually with different bands and instrumental formats.

The Whammies approach the tunes as hard-core improvisers, focusing on their melodic grace and generosity in the head charts and then letting their solos rip. Dijkstra alternates between alto saxophone and lyricon, an analog wind synthesizer, which he often plays on the tracks Oliver is on; the combination of violin an synth provides a nicely astringent upper-register timbre to balance Bishop's rubbery, full-bodied trombone. Karayorgis plays with impressive economy, pushing and pulling the others. And of course Bennink is Bennink, swinging ferociously and dropping snare bombs like a drunken WWII pilot. "As Usual" sidles along with a sing-songy feel, and the brisk "Ducks" lives up to its title with a playful conversation between squawky, flatulent plunger-mute trombone and Dijkstra's Zorn-like quacks. Below you can check out the band's driving take on "Dutch Masters."

Anat Cohen
  • Anat Cohen
Though the Umbrella festival dominates this weekend's jazz and improvised-music calendar, it's hardly the only action in town. On Sunday Israeli clarinetist Anat Cohen returns to the area for a show at SPACE in Evanston with her excellent quartet—pianist Jason Lindner, bassist Joe Martin, and drummer Daniel Freedman. In September Cohen released her most definitive album yet, Claroscuro (Anzic)—the title is the Spanish word for the play of light and shade—on which she deftly and nonchalantly weaves together most of the disparate threads she addresses separately in her multifarious projects, from Brazilian music to classic swing to postbop.

Though Cohen plays a bit soprano and tenor saxophone on the album, she's made her name with her sublime clarinet work—tonally pure, rhythmically agile, and harmonically plush. She and her band make it seem easy, even logical, to veer from the hard-driving, jagged lines of "Anat's Dance" (composed by Lindner) to a leisurely and nostalgic spin through the Edith Piaf vehicle "La Vie en Rose" (with fat-toned trombone by guest Wycliffe Gordon, who also sings a verse in a Satchmo-style growl) to a sweetly lyrical, sweeping version of the Milton Nascimento classic "Tudo Que Você Podia Ser."

Even on new tunes such as Freedman's propulsive "All Brothers," the band reaches out to styles outside jazz, employing a circular melodic motif gleaned form West Africa (with Lindner cleverly damping his piano strings to suggest a kalimba). A version of the Cartola ballad "As Rosas Não Falam" has a Middle Eastern tinge of sorrow, and the band's treatment of Dr. Lonnie Smith's "And the World Weeps" turns organ blues into a down-and-out early-jazz dirge. On some tracks the band is bolstered by Brazilian percussionist Gilmar Gomes, and on four tunes the great Cuban reedist Paquito D'Rivera joins in on clarinet, lending a dizzying quality to the proceedings as his lines intertwine giddily yet precisely with Cohen's. You can hear them together on the track below, a dark-hued take on Artie Shaw's swinging "Nightmare."

Today's playlist:

Daniel Humair, Tony Malaby, and Bruno Chevillon, Pas de Dense (Zig Zag Territories)
Dean McPhee, Son of the Black Peace (Blast First Petite)
Hession/Wilkinson/Fell, Two Falls & a Submission (Bo’Weavil)
Empirical, Elements of Truth (Naim)
Väsen, Keyed Up (NorthSide)