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Bill Royston celebrating International Jazz Day while quarantined

By BILL ROYSTON // Tips on how to celebrate International Jazz Day today and every day...and some remembrances of Past IJD's.

Happy International Jazz Day! Have you made your plans? Going to a jazz club tonight? Maybe a jazz concert? Or perhaps this is the day to splurge on tickets to your favorite summer jazz festival? Remember to improvise your music and not your life! Hardly. This year is Covid Jazz or Remote Jazz. Music from a distance.

So far, I have celebrated this year's International Jazz Day watching online performances by Herbie Hancock & Wayne Shorter and Kurt Elling & Al Jarreau. The gigs both felt distant. Too distant for Jazz. I even watched part of a Boney James Smooth Jazz concert from the Berks Jazz Fest's 'Encore Concerts' posted on Facebook. Berks Jazz had to cancel its 30th anniversary festival in March because of the virus, but again the physical distance simply made this music feel very dated. You can't have a smooth jazz party in your living room on International Jazz Day!

In the past, I have spent this hallowed day in different ways. The first year I listened to the entire Duke Ellington at Newport recording with the historic Paul Gonzalves solo. Beautiful music but just a little dusty--much like Smooth Jazz today. Another year I listened to all four-hours-forty-minutes of Charles Mingus' "Epitaph" courtesy of Sue Mingus. A little shell- shocked,

I called Sue to thank her, and she joyously exclaimed that she'd found another hour of music. Did I want to hear it? This was decidedly not dusty Jazz, yet I declined. Then there was the year that I went for broke, flew to New York, and sat through three sets at the Vanguard with the Paul Motian/Joe Lovano/Bill Frisell trio. It was the last time they played together. Somehow it made sense. Memorable. Last year, I listened to twenty continuous hours of Keith Jarrett solo piano, and I haven't been the same since.

After watching the internet Jazz on my tablet I got out of bed to really have an International Jazz Day send-off. Today I am celebrating The Cohen's! The 3 Cohen's (Anat, Avishai-the-trumpet-player, and Yuval) plus Avishai-the-bass-player who is not related. They all come from the exploding jazz scene in Israel, but have each impacted the American landscape as well. Remember, it is INTERNATIONAL Jazz Day, a time to remember that we shouldn't be so proprietary about our culture!

Anat Cohen is a major player on sax and clarinet, and has evolved as a significant bridge between modern and contemporary Jazz. She has played Portland several times with smaller ensembles, including a memorable gig with her brothers at the Crystal Ballroom, but it's her larger ensembles that truly radiate. About fifteen years ago, she released "Noir" with the Anat Cohen Anzic Orchestra with brilliant playing and impeccable arrangements. It remains one of my all time favorite jazz recordings. I used to fantasize bringing this big band to Portland, or create a residency with local musicians to supplement the orchestra and save on air and hotel. Anat was game, but we simply couldn't make it ever happen logistically.

The good news is that in the last few years this same team has released two stellar recordings as the Anat Cohen Tentet with "Happy Song" (2017) and "Triple Helix" (2019)--both of which I would proudly nominate as Jazz Album of the Decade! Unlike the Anzic Orchestra, Anat plays clarinet exclusively, and again the playing is astounding while the air-tight arrangements are perfect. No where else will you hear such a successful integration of clarinet, accordion, and electric guitar. I don't know if there is another band today that I would fly across country to experience, but I would super glue pigeons to my arms to see the Anat Cohen Tentet!

 "Big Vicious" is the brand new ECM release by trumpeter/brother Avishai. It is easily the front-runner for Jazz Album of the Year in 2020. While only a small group of musicians are credited, "Big Vicious" sounds large, especially with the addition of burning electric guitar (much like sister Anat does with the Tentet). This is truly new music. Uncompromising with vision. If you secure "Big Vicious" in CD or vinyl forms, do not place with your other albums because it will melt them. While Anat lives in New York, Avishai has returned to Israel and you can hear it.

The other Avishai, the bass player, also returned to Israel after sojorns in America and Europe, and recently he began singing. While I am not a fan of the vocalese, I love the larger ensemble albums like "Continuo," which is not new but most relevant in relation to the more recent recordings by Anat and Avishai (trumpet). The one quality that always stands out with Avishai-Cohen-the-bass-player is intensity. As we witnessed when his sextet played Portland in 2010, the bass playing Cohen is a superb improviser, an imaginative composer, and always intensely dramatic.

Rumor has it that the intensity spilled over to the point where once Avishai Cohen (bass) confronted Avishai Cohen (trumpet) to legally change his name. I wouldn't be waiting for The 4 Cohen's to be jamming together soon... Or for a duo of The 2 Avishai's.

In the meantime, run--don't walk--to your favorite streaming service (assuming that you have no moral issues with artists getting ripped off), or to an actual music retailer like Music Millennium (where the music always sounds better), and listen to Anat & The Two Avishai's via four superior recordings for a real INTERNATIONAL Jazz Day.

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Tim o

So great to hear Bill speak on this! What a pleasure


The concept of celebrating International Jazz Day with intention is a new one and I like it. As a fan/supporter of Anat's music and the bass Avashai, I'm intrigue by the 'reviews'. Must get me some of this music! Thanks, Bill.

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