By Howard Reich
Clarinetist Anat Cohen has performed often in Chicago through the years, but never in as plush an instrumental setting as she led Saturday night at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts.
Celebrating her new album, “Happy Song,” which was released the day before, Cohen launched the recording’s national tour with her Tentet in precisely the concert-hall environment it deserves. For this meticulously conceived music conveys details of instrumentation, subtleties of voicing and a range of instrumental color that reward careful listening.
Cohen’s work on clarinet — among the most nuanced and supple in jazz — benefited significantly from this swirl of accompanying sound. Whether she was producing velvety tones in legato phrases or feathery figurations in up-tempo compositions, her solos proved all the more striking when set against the tintinnabulation of a vibraphone or the plush chords of brass and reeds.
In essence, a capacity audience heard Cohen not only as soloist but as conductor, the clarinetist directing her colleagues to push a tempo or hold back, turn up the intensity or dial it down. That these musicians paid such close attention to Cohen’s directions and to the considerable technical and artistic demands of the arrangements — most penned by Oded Lev-Ari — said a great about the regard they have for her.