Review: Working hard for the moments on Day 5

11:43 PM, Jun 25, 2013

Anat Cohen (Photo provided by XRIJF)/


Written By Jeff Spevak | Staff music critic

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Some musicians come with a built-in moment. Tony Bennett and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” Mr. Rogers and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” But most musicians have to work for it, night in and night out. And Anat Cohen really worked it Tuesday night, Day 5 of the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival.

You could see the moment was coming. One of the top jazz clarinetists in the world, the Israeli-born Cohen had almost a full house for the first of her two shows at the 700-seat Xerox Auditorium. Cohen had them from Artie Shaw’s “Nightmare,” her first song of the night. She was a swinging snake charmer, animated, shouting “Ahhhhh!” when the clarinet wasn’t enough. She elicited all kinds of non-standard groans of pleasure from the instrument, sometimes slapping the valves, which surely will have every band director in the area screaming “No! No! No!” when they see their students trying out that move. It was uninhibited playing. When Cohen stepped aside to let her fine trio play, she danced to the groove in her blue jeans, swinging her long hair like she was at some kind of festival.

Cohen, pianist Jason Lindner, bassist Joe Martin and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. toured the world with Brazilian hand drum and tambourine beats, hit the highway groove with “All Brothers” and then pulled up to the moment of the night: Paris, and “La Vie En Rose.” Most folks know this languid ballad, but Cohen made it loopy, charming and funny even, with little throwaway notes. She re-invented every aspect of the familiar melody, speeding it up, turning it upside down, then returning to something Edith Piaf could wrap her voice around, soft and welcoming, like throwing a rose to the audience.

Today’s jazz haiku

Pause … and on we go

sinuous clarinet wind

breathes life into jazz

Autobahnpianobänger

What is German jazz? Kraftwerk in berets?

The piano was aimed away from the front of the stage, so even if you had a prime seat what you saw was the slim young fellow in black, hunched over the keyboard, his spidery hands racing across the keys. This was the Michael Wollny Trio, cryptically known as Michael Wollny’s {em}, at its second show at Max of Eastman Place.

Wollny’s head sometimes dipped so low that his dark hair tumbled down and almost hit the keyboard. He is a flashy, unconventional player, slapping at the keys, reaching into the piano and stroking the wires like you would a cat that had suddenly jumped on your lap. His hands drilled nervous repetitions into the keys as the drums and bass ascended behind him.

Wollny’s moments of frantic creativity saw him hopping on the stool, his feet dancing, as the music sailed into crescendos. Thunderous crescendos, with Wollny playing like a man who was determined to be heard by the David Byrne fans on the street outside, filing out of the Eastman Theatre. Wollny could barely contain himself, so into the moment that the room could have been on fire, flaming curtains dropping on the piano, and Wollny wouldn’t have noticed it. It was intoxicating, and completely engrossing.

For the record, Wollny does play the old German jazz masters, Mahler and Schubert. And Kraftwerk, too.

If the shoe fits

The Black Lillies came with gourds to shake and a pedal steel guitar to whine, but playing a tent full of beer drinkers is no time for nuance. In their first show on the roots and Americana stage at Abilene Bar & Lounge, the band seemed to recognize this quickly enough. One song in, Tom Pryor largely went for the electric guitar as The Black Lillies escalated into the proper poop-kicker mood.

This band feels like it might soon step up to the ranks of brethren like the Avett Brothers. Front man Cruz Contreras has the look and songs of been-knocked-down-got-back-up restlessness, from the rockers to slow-burn ballads like “The Fall.” And there’s a Carter Family branch with “Rambling Boy,” always a plus for a band from the Tennessee woods.

It’s also a plus, amid all of those cowboy boots, to spot a bassist wearing sandals.