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Songs We Love: Anat Cohen, 'Putty Boy Strut'

Israeli jazz reedist Anat Cohen.
Israeli jazz reedist Anat Cohen.

It begins with meandering clarinet and clipped, four-on-the-floor percussion. A little bit later comes a countermelody, and the image that comes to mind is something from early New Orleans, or perhaps a Mediterranean folk song. It's even called "Putty Boy Strut" — that could be an obscure Jelly Roll Morton tune, right?

Cohen's new album, <em>Luminosa</em>, is out now.
/ Courtesy of the artist
Cohen's new album, <em>Luminosa</em>, is out now.

But that which was slightly off grows weirder: a skipped beat here, a washy suspended cymbal there, and a solo with a very contemporary swing feel. Whatever it is, the interpretation is stylized and clearly modern — it's a smart arrangement, with attention to fine details of exactly when a piano emerges, or a bass interjects. And then, perhaps, you realize its distinguishing features are familiar, as if you've heard this before. Perhaps you have: it's clarinetist Anat Cohen and her quartet's version of a tune by the electronic music-maker Flying Lotus.

Lotus' jazz connections (he's the grand-nephew of Alice and John Coltrane) and interests (listen to his last few records) are generally public knowledge, and Cohen isn't the first improviser of today to complete the loop by covering him. But there's something about this that makes sense philosophically beyond all that. I mean, it's all very considered, the way that electronic humanoid bleeps and synthetic percussion are translated to traditional acoustic instruments in a way that brings out the warmth in both environments.

And there's also a bit of talent on display from Cohen's clarinet and band (Jason Lindner on keys, Joe Martin on bass, Daniel Freedman on drums with Gilmar Gomes adding percussion), which escapes the confines of a regimented song in a succinct solo but shimmers even when just stating the melody. There is, though, also this connection, where something from hypermodern jazz-inflected electronic music somehow suggests the dawn of jazz, or one of its fellow folk styles. (Brazilian choro? Middle Eastern traditions? Something from Eastern Europe?) The clarinet's timbre, the colorful percussion, the intervallic quirks of the melody and its counterpoint: that brings the link to the fore.

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