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Friday, 19 April 2013 17:57

Concert review: The Greater St. Louis Jazz Festival opens at Jazz at the Bistro with a humorous night lead by Anat Cohen and Matt Wilson, Thursday, April 18

Matt Wilson at the Greater St. Louis Jazz Festival Matt Wilson at the Greater St. Louis Jazz Festival Wil Wander
Written by Wil Wander
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Even before the first note was played, it was clear that this concert at Jazz at the Bistro would be a night of laughter and upbeat sounds.

As her bandmates got settled, Anat Cohen stepped to the front of the stage with a confused look on her face, clearly unable to decide which of the three instruments she should pick up from the stands in front of her. After hamming it up for a minute, a member from the audience shouted “clarinet!,” and she grabbed the wooden horn with a bounce and smile. The precedent had been set; the night’s second set was going to be free and unscripted with many suggestions and comments bursting from the crowd.

The mood suited Cohen and drummer Matt Wilson, who are both celebrated for their sense of humor as well as prowess as composers and band leaders. Wilson, a staple of the vibrant New York City jazz scene, brings life to even a simple drum set with his personality and passion for the music. With over a dozen albums under his belt as band leader and co-leader, he’s also contributed to over 250 albums and is a very active educator in the music world. While not yet as prolific, Cohen has become a fan favorite in both New York and the world at large. Born and raised in Tel Aviv, she first came to the states to attend Berklee College of Music, soon migrating to New York where she’s continued her career.

Quite familiar with each other, the two were easily capable of a duet performance, but elected to expand to the quartet format, including two more locally based musicians to fill out the group. Columbia, Mo.’s Ken Kehner sat at the Bistro’s in-house piano, a place where he was some familiarity from past performances as part of the regionally focused “Spotlight Series.” At the back of the stage stood Jamal Nichols and his contrabass, including the C extension to drop the lowest E string down a few more steps at choice moments. The two filled in with comfort and ease, impressing the crowd and the headliners with their professionalism, creativity and a few humorous moments of their own.

Cohen took the forefront and the lead on most songs, primarily on the clarinet, although she did make use of a soprano and tenor sax as well. She was very active on stage, constantly playing with a swing in her hips, a bounce in her knees and whipping out a few grandiose, jerky twitches on the intentional squeaks at the top range of the instrument. After laying down the melody, she got the first solo each song and used the opportunity to exhibit the full gamut of woodwind skills she possesses. Her outro to Jimmy Rowles' "The Peacocks" highlighted her talent, demonstrating speed, range, volume control, tone and a light touch. Often, she would step aside during the others’ solos, but wasn't at all detached as she danced and even shouted things like “say what?” in amazement of one of Nichols’ licks.

Wilson shared a different style, building from the basics of drumming. His drum set was fairly simple without anything out of the ordinary, pardon the relatively small size of the hi-hats, but his personality shined through during his many solos. While the arpeggio isn't generally associated with drummers, Wilson's use of the toms and the snare without the chains engaged seemed to mimic the four note phrases of pitch based instruments, primarily during his solos. His gleaming moment came at the start of the fourth song where he started with a purely free form, extended intro to a suitably avant-garde styled piece which included many experimental elements, including a moment where he slid the side of his hand across the snare, gradually changing the pitch.

Together, they referred to themselves jokingly as the St. Louis Love Quartet and announced new found friendships with Kehner and Nichols, along with the crowd at the Bistro. They performed with joy and amazement throughout, surprising themselves and each other along the way in a manner Wilson described as "never playing the same thing once." It was certainly a night to be remembered through anecdotes and inside jokes.

Set list:

No Outerwear
J Blues
The Peacocks
Lou Brock (Reprise)

All photos by Wil Wander.

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