THE 3 COHENS: Yuval, Anat & Avishai
"To the ranks of the Heaths of Philadelphia, the Joneses of Detroit and the Marsalises of New Orleans, fans can now add The 3 Cohens of Tel Aviv." — All About Jazz
The best jazz groups are made up of kindred spirits, but the rare family band has something more – an intuitive feel for each other that goes beyond words and gestures to a kind of bred-in-the-bone telepathy. The 3 Cohens are that sort of uncommon collective, a trio of siblings from Tel Aviv, Israel – tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Anat Cohen, trumpeter Avishai Cohen and soprano saxophonist Yuval Cohen – whose sense of improvisational interplay is both uncannily fluent and wonderfully, infectiously warm. Along with performing on stages the world over, The 3 Cohens have four studio albums to their credit: One (2004), Braid (2007), Family (2011) and, released in October 2013 via Anzic Records, the extraordinary Tightrope. When The 3 Cohens were featured on the cover of DownBeat magazine in January 2012, the article depicted the character of the group this way: “Chemistry. Alchemy. Telepathy. All are appropriate words to describe the otherworldly quality of improvisation by a band with longstanding individual credentials… There’s something special at work here – a new level of anticipation and celebration. Witness the joyful – and at times, whimsical and intimate – conversations and interweaving horn textures."
The filial intuitiveness at the heart of The 3 Cohens is a thing for an audience to behold, but these musicians can summon it with their eyes closed. “We can talk without talking," says Anat, the middle child. “Often, we don't even have to look at each other onstage. We have such history together that we feel each other through the music."
Most of the tracks on latest 3 Cohens album, Tightrope, see the siblings walking the fine line of the title without a net – performing a cappella, with no chordal instrument or rhythm section for support; moreover, these horn players venture a sequence of “Conversations" as unaccompanied free improvisations, spontaneously composing the music in interplay – an evolutionary development for the group. DownBeat gave the album a four-star review, stressing the “remarkable level of harmony" among the siblings. The New York Daily News singled out the “impassioned" playing, while the Financial Times praised the album’s “emotional sweep." The material ranges from the free improv and fresh originals to classics by Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Tadd Dameron, Art Farmer and Gerry Mulligan, plus tunes associated with João Gilberto and Jo Stafford. When not going it alone on Tightrope, The 3 Cohens added special guests to the mix, with pianist Fred Hersch, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Jonathan Blake each appearing to make the trio a starry quartet on several tracks. “We treat our horns as voices, so we call it playing a cappella when it’s just the three of us," Anat says. “But even though we wanted to do an a cappella album, we couldn’t resist having a few guests, musicians we really love." Yuval adds: “Sometimes people have said, ‘Why were your parents so lazy – why did they stop at three? You could’ve had a rhythm section…’ These guests feel like extended family."
Yuval, Anat and Avaishi Cohen grew up in Tel Aviv under the same roof and in the same schools, with the common environment helping to shape close musical tastes, approaches and ideas. The three attended the Tel Aviv School for the Arts, the “Thelma Yalin" High School for the Arts and the Jaffa Music Conservatory, their backgrounds including some symphonic orchestral playing. But it was jazz that soon captured their imaginations. Through the World Scholarship Tour, each of the Cohens received the means to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where they expanded their musical horizons. Post-graduation, the trio formed a sextet and performed their original music at the Lodz Jazz Festival in Poland. This was the seed of One, their debut album as The 3 Cohens, recorded in 2003. Since then, The 3 Cohens sextet has ranged from acclaimed appearances at the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival, Caesarea Jazz Party and Givatayim Jazz Festival in Israel to performances at the Tudo é Jazz Festival in Brazil and the JVC and Portland Jazz festivals in the U.S. The 3 Cohens have also played top clubs from across Europe and in Australia to the famed Village Vanguard in Manhattan, performing a weeklong residency there in 2009. In 2013, The 3 Cohens played one of the world’s most prestigious venues, Carnegie Hall, performing for a rapt house on the Zankel Hall stage.
Acclaim for The 3 Cohens was immediate with the release of One. The All About Jazz review offered extended praise: “What gives The 3 Cohens a certain edge is the simpatico they share, extending beyond merely being siblings; it involves all three sharing the common bond of music from an early age, and the kind of comfort level and intuition that can only come from playing together for many years. The result, whether it’s on the pastoral tinge of ‘For My Brother and Sister,’ the more incessantly swinging ‘In Amirim,' which still manages to hint at a Middle Eastern harmonic sensibility, or the tender ballad ‘Morning Dream,' is a front line that finds pleasure in the subtlest nuances. While there are hints of their ethnic heritage, make no mistake – this music is clearly rooted in contemporary post-bop… Throughout, a joyfulness pervades these performances."
Braid, the next release by The 3 Cohens, brimmed with original compositions of soul and fire, from Avishai’s melodically gorgeous “Gigi et Amelie" and Anat’s elegantly groovy “U-Valley" to Yuval’s showcase for explosive interplay, “Freedom." All About Jazz was again full of enthusiasm, pointing out how the threesome’s “inside jokes, finishing of each others’ sentences and playful sibling rivalries spur the ensemble to refined heights… The sextet offers fresh, modern jazz full of energy, daring and emotion." The New York Times also enthused over the group’s “family sound" and “intuitive counterpoint" before pointing out the players’ individual qualities: “Anat has emerged as one of the best clarinet players in jazz, with a warm and singing tone; Avishai can play bebop and ballad lines and outer-limit trumpet sounds with tireless fluency; and Yuval has a full and relaxed sound on soprano."
Family, from 2011, featured the three Israeli horn players in league with a swinging New York rhythm section: pianist Aaron Goldberg, double-bassist Matt Penman and drummer Gregory Hutchinson. The album presented some top-notch originals, including Avishai’s loving title feature for the group's characteristic three-horn interweave and two Charles Mingus-inflected numbers (Yuval’s “Blues for Dandi’s Orange Bull Chasing an Orange Sack" and Avishai’s “With the Soul of the Greatest of Them All"). The disc also includes a winning take on Duke Ellington’s “The Mooche" and an international retooling of the New Orleans standard “Tiger Rag" born of the group's great love for and experience with the music of Louis Armstrong. The sextet is joined by iconic vocalist Jon Hendricks for the vintage “On the Sunny Side of the Street" and “Roll ’em, Pete." Reviewing the album, The New York Times talked of The 3 Cohens “casting their lines in tight, tangled counterpoint, bright and buoyant solos over percolating rhythm… springy and unbound," while New York magazine called it “a bright and often blistering take on post-bop jazz."
When not working together, each of the Cohens excel individually. Yuval, the eldest, released his sophomore album – Song Without Words, a classically tinged duo set with pianist Shai Maestro – in 2011. He recently won Israel’s prestigious Landau Award for his achievements in jazz, and along with being a performer, he is one of his country’s most sought after educators. Anat was been named Clarinetist of the Year at the Jazz Journalist Association Awards every year since 2007 and, in recent years, Multi-Reeds Player of the Year, too. She has also topped the DownBeat Critics and Readers Polls year after year. A Brooklyn resident, Anat has toured the world with her quartet, playing the Newport, Umbria, SF Jazz and North Sea jazz festivals as well as the Village Vanguard, where she recorded the live Clarinetwork, with rhythm mates Benny Green, Peter Washington and Lewis Nash. Her sixth solo album – the hit Claroscuro, released by Anzic in 2012 – found her at home with a world of music from New York and New Orleans to Brazil and Africa.
Avishai, the youngest Cohen, played his own set at the 2011 Newport Jazz Festival, and he tours widely with the SF Jazz Collective. The trumpeter has also made an array of recordings as a leader, including three Anzic albums that feature his lauded trio Triveni with bassist Omer Avital and drummer Nasheet Waits: Introducing Triveni (2010), Triveni II (2012) and Dark Days (May 2014). Avishai was named a Rising Star in the 2012 DownBeat Critics Poll. Coming back to The 3 Cohens after their individual experiences is a welcome thing for the three musicians. Yuval points to how much fun it is for the siblings to play together simply “because we know each other so well and respect each other so much." For Avishai, the family band “is probably closest to my heart," he says. “You get to create music with incredible musicians whom you also know and love unconditionally."
The leadership role in The 3 Cohens “constantly shifts, with each us of taking turns as leaders depending on the tune and situation," explains Anat. “We’re democratic about things, so there is a moment for one to shine and the others to support. Because Yuval is the oldest, it was natural for him to be the leading force early on, of course, and we were comfortable following him. Now that we’re adults with our own lives and careers, we each bring our own influences, experience and confidence to the group. It’s an ongoing process to say what we want to say as individuals and still incorporate repertoire into the group that we all feel attuned to. But we work at it. It’s a journey."
When the Cohens hang out with each other off the bandstand, “we are 100% siblings, with all that implies," says Anat, with a laugh. “But we have gotten better over the years at looking beyond our sibling relationships to treat each other as artists – whether that’s not being too familial in rehearsal or just not cracking each other up onstage too much. I do think people can hear the love we have for each other, because it comes through in the music. We share so much. To me, the sounds of the trumpet and the soprano saxophone are really the sounds of my brothers, just as the sound of the clarinet for them is me. To keep sharing our music onstage and in the studio is a gift."
All About Jazz, in its review of Tightrope, summed up the progress of this very special band: “With each and every album, The 3 Cohens have furthered the scope of their music and broadened the definition of togetherness."
— Bradley Bambarger
THE 3 COHENS: Yuval, Anat & Avishai