Acclaimed jazz clarinetist Anat Cohen has always connected with Brazilian music, though it took moving across an ocean for her to realize it. “I heard it growing up in Israel,” she says, noting that she often encountered samba tunes with Hebrew lyrics in her native Tel Aviv. “I just didn’t know it was Brazilian music.”
Raised in a musical family, her brothers and she spent their formative years learning to play instruments. She took to woodwinds, learning the saxophone in addition to the clarinet—which she is known for the world over. Cohen has won numerous accolades for her playing. She’s been named “Clarinetist of the Year” by the Jazz Journalists Association nine times since 2007.
Cohen didn’t hear Brazilian sambas with Portuguese lyrics until she moved to the U.S., where she attended the famed Berklee School of Music in Boston. She was enchanted by the rhythm of the language and the “chk-chka-chk-chka” beat.
Her affinity for the music of Brazil explains how she found her way to collaborating with Trio Brasileiro. Comprising three of Brazil’s most celebrated musicians—guitarist Douglas Lora, mandolinist Dudu Maia, and percussionist Alexandre Lora—the three-piece has garnered national attention since forming in 2011. Cohen plays with the trio at a San Jose Jazz-hosted show this Friday at Cafe Stritch.
Since coming together to record a collaborative album in 2016, Cohen and Trio Brasileiro have forged a strong musical bond through the tradition of choro music, which originated in Rio de Janeiro.
“That’s the music that pushed me to be a clarinet player,” Cohen muses about choro. The lively and energetic style is both complex and accessible, requiring dexterity and an ability to improvise on the fly, as well as a playfulness and strong sense of rhythm—making it an attractive genre for such an accomplished jazz musician as Cohen.
“I love the whole way the music moves around between musicians,” Cohen says of choro. “It can be very challenging, it can be very emotional. It can make you dance, it can make you cry.”
All of these aspects of the Brazilian musical style are on full display in a live video Cohen recorded with Trio Brasileiro—a performance of “Choro Pesado.” In a way, the swinging track recalls the tune played by the house band at the Mos Eisley Cantina—only with a more tropical vibe and infused with Between the Buried and Me-esque avant-garde metal sweeps.
In addition to the intoxicating fluidity of the clarinet, guitar and mandolin, the percussion work of Alexandre Lora is particularly impressive. Playing the pandeiro—a little hand drum that to the untrained eye might look like a tambourine—he holds down the beat with aplomb. In his hands, Cohen says, the pandeiro is “a whole drumset.”
Cohen says the music she makes with Trio Brasileiro is inspired as much by the sounds of Rio as it is by heavy metal, classical music and Pink Floyd.
Asked whether the music she makes with Trio Brasileiro is inherently more diverse than other forms due to its trans-Atlantic amalgamation of sounds, she deflects. “All music is influenced by all music, I would say—especially in this day and age. People are traveling the world by pressing a button.”
And that’s a wonderful thing in Cohen’s opinion. “Music is a beautiful mirror to people’s personalities,” she says, adding that she views music as a never-ending journey of self-discovery. “You think that you’re studying music, but you’re really studying yourself.”
Anat Cohen & Trio Brasileiro
May 12, 7pm, $30+
Cafe Stritch, San Jose