The Israeli clarinetist/saxophonist nailed one solo after another in a highlight-packed Sunday show in Kirkland.

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Local jazz fans have been enthusiastically declaring Israeli reed whiz Anat Cohen’s concerts this past weekend with the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra (SRJO) the best shows in the 20-year-old big band’s history.


Past SRJO performances with Clark Terry, who died Saturday, and Terry’s protégé, Quincy Jones, were pretty great.

Let’s just say Cohen’s sparkling Sunday show at the Kirkland Performance Center — which was dedicated to Terry — not only lived up to all expectations, but more importantly it yanked the tradition-minded SRJO into the international present where jazz actually lives. And that’s a very good thing.

The band has been exceptionally tight the past couple of years, but the presence of such an extraordinary soloist kicked it up another notch. One of the best parts of Sunday’s show was watching the front line of fellow reed players shake their heads in gleeful disbelief as Cohen — dancing in place, clarinet aimed at the balcony, Benny Goodman-style — nailed one spectacular solo after another.

In a show packed with highlights, a few included Cohen’s doubling back on her own phrase shapes on the bossa nova “Chega de Saudade”; the cascading clarinet trio and plunger mute trumpet commentary by Andy Omdahl on Duke Ellington’s “jungle band” classic, “The Mooche”; Cohen’s torchy finale on Julie London’s revenge classic, “Cry Me a River”; and the light-dappled, Cuban salon mood of “La Comparsa.”

Cohen’s lifelong friend Oded Lev-Ari contributed, among other arrangements, a clever juxtaposition of Luis Bonfa’s bossa nova classic “Samba de Orfeu” with Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans-style “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue” (which shares the same first line), complete with a re-creation of Armstrong’s ’20s-style “oh-vodee-oo” tag. Jay Thomas offered a sumptuous trumpet solo on Lonnie Smith’s “And the World Weeps,” and Cohen’s speedy re-imagining of Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz,” in 9/8 time, was a head-spinner.

Cohen drew a piping, slightly furry tone from her tenor saxophone, showcased to good advantage on Abdullah Ibrahim’s processional dirge, “The Wedding.”

Guitarist Milo Peterson did triple duty, playing banjo and electric and acoustic guitar, the latter showing nicely on a quickstep unison with Cohen on Hermeto Pascoal’s lively baião, “Bebê.”

Latin percussionists Ricardo Guity and Lary Barilleau tossed extra fuel on the program’s Latin fires.

Was it the best SRJO concert ever? Maybe so. But when you hear a concert that musically satisfying, “best” is beside the point.