Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 13, 2022

REVIEW: UMass Fine Arts Center, Anat Cohen Quartetinho

Frederick C. Tillis Performance Hall, Amherst, MA
April 9, 2022 
by Michael J. Moran 

The 24th annual UMass High School Jazz Festival brought student ensembles from around the region to the Amherst campus to perform and take part in clinics and masterclasses by UMass jazz faculty and guest jazz musician/educators, including clarinetist and bandleader Anat Cohen. The daylong event culminated in a public concert by Cohen and her latest musical group, the Quartetinho. 

Anat Cohen
Its four diverse members, all current Brooklyn, NY residents and multi-instrumentalists, are: Tel Aviv native Cohen (clarinet, bass clarinet); Brazilian Vitor Goncalves (piano, keyboards, accordion); Israeli Tal Mashiach (upright bass, seven-string guitar); and, from Maryland, James Shipp (vibes, percussion, electronics).

As their Portuguese name (meaning “little quartet”) suggests, their repertoire is heavily influenced by Brazil, which Cohen said in a post-show Q&A she first visited in 2000 and “never looked back.” The opening set included pieces by two of that country’s greatest composers, Egberto Gismonti and Antonio Carlos Jobim, in distinctive interpretations that showcased the group’s breathtaking individual and collective improvisational skills. 

Other highlights were several songs written by band members, including a tender tribute to his grandparents that featured Mashiach on guitar, and a lively waltz by Cohen built around a complex rhythmic scheme. Most moving was a powerful arrangement, spotlighting Cohen’s bass clarinet and Mashiach’s string bass, of “Goin’ Home,” the slow movement theme from Dvorak’s “New World” symphony, which they premiered at Newport Jazz Festival founder George Wein’s funeral last fall and here dedicated to “all the displaced people” around the world.

Praising the warm acoustics of Tillis Hall, Cohen was a charismatic performer, in almost constant motion around the ample stage as she played. Her tone on both instruments was unfailingly pure and mellow, even through occasional shrieks and wails for emphasis. All four players shifted with easy virtuosity among their various instruments, exuding a sense of joy and mutual admiration that was infectious. 

This rapport extended to the post-show Q&A moderated by Brazilian-born UMass jazz professor Felipe Salles. The musicians’ spirited exchanges with student audience members augured well for the next generation of jazz performers and educators.