Over the past dozen years, clarinetist Anat Cohen has risen to the top tier of jazz, with a cover story in this month’s DownBeat magazine following two Grammy nominations, a commission from Carnegie Hall and perennial wins in polls.
She has also earned a special place in the hearts of Northwest fans, thanks in part to her sensational 2015 appearance as a guest artist with the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra and, more recently, this year’s show by her extraordinary tentet at the Edmonds Center for the Arts.
Next Friday, July 26, the Israeli-born, New York City-based reed wizard returns for a stint at Jazz Port Townsend, in a duo with Brazilian seven-string guitarist Marcello Gonçalves. When Cohen played Jazz PT with a quartet in 2013, she did one tune in the rhythmically lively Brazilian style called choro, which often features clarinet and has some of the jauntiness of early jazz. Cohen teaches a choro workshop every spring for Centrum, the nonprofit arts organization that presents the jazz festival, and her set with Gonçalves will include more samples of that sparkling style.
Rolling out words with the same fizzy animation she applies to her clarinet, Cohen recalled in a phone interview that few people — including herself — knew much about choro in New York when she started to play it there in 2000.
“At the end of the year, I went to Brazil for the first time,” she said. “Marcello was one of the people I met on that trip. I only learned later that choro was having a revival in Rio. Everybody just wanted to play. That whole period really grabbed me so strongly. It was a huge impact on my life.”
Gonçalves, who plays with an orchestral elegance that brings to mind the great Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell, suggested that he and Cohen record a duo album of music by the unsung Brazilian composer Moacir Santos. The result was the gently beautiful CD “Outra Coisa,” which got a well-deserved Grammy nomination in 2017 for best world music album. That same year, Cohen recorded an album — “Rosa Dos Ventos” — with Trio Brasileiro (whose members she met at the Centrum choro workshop); it, too, was nominated for a Grammy.
“So this was all thanks to Centrum,” said Cohen.
A low-key, quietly intense album, “Outra Coisa” showcases gorgeous melodies and alert interplay.
“We sat next to each other in the studio, just playing at an acoustic level,” explained Cohen. “Part of the magic is that intimacy.”
Now that they’ve played the pieces a lot, live, Cohen said, “We’re able to go a little bit more crazy!”
Like the rest of the headliners at Jazz PT, Cohen will teach at the weeklong workshop that precedes the weekend shows at McCurdy Pavilion, the tall hangar that once housed military air balloons. On Friday, Cohen shares the bill there with the ultra-funky organ trio led by Akiko Tsuruga.
Saturday afternoon brings Brothers of Brass, two of the hottest trumpet players in jazz, Terell Stafford and Marquis Hill; young crooner Michael Mayo; and the Centrum All Star Big Band, directed by Jazz PT’s artistic director, John Clayton. Saturday night offers pianist Geoffrey Keezer with eclectic Canadian vocalist Gillian Margot; and a 2017 music-theater work, “Piedmont Blues, A Search For Salvation,” composed by Clayton’s son, Gerald, a top-flight pianist, with Rene Marie as vocalist and narrator.
In years past, crowds fanned out to Port Townsend clubs and restaurants after the mainstage concerts, but last year the festival pulled those shows back to Fort Worden. It’s not as festive but allows under-21 students to attend and Centrum does its best to make the pop-up nightclubs feel cozy. Pianist George Cables is always a highlight of the club sets and don’t be surprised if you see Cohen prowling in the crowd, or even sitting in.
Jazz Port Townsend, 8 p.m. Thursday, July 25, through 12:30 a.m. Saturday, July 27; McCurdy Pavilion and other venues at Fort Worden State Park, Jefferson County; mainstage concerts $28-$56, nightclub passes $25 per night, mainstage concert packages $85-$140, all-festival packages $120-$185; 360-385-3102, ext. 118, or 800-746-1982; centrum.org/jazz-port-townsend-performances.