Rachael Cohen, a London-based alto saxophonist and composer, is one of the brightest emerging stars of her generation. Her infectious tone mixed with her uncanny lyricism as both a composer and improviser have gained her a great deal of attention in the UK and beyond. The Guardian has recently asserted that “Cohen takes a softly devious approach reminiscent of Lee Konitz – but, as with the canny Cool School veteran, the quietness is deceptive and the subtlety is in the weighting of phrases and the hipness with which she plays off the rhythm section.” Emusic noted “Saxophonist Cohen crafts some deceptively simple melodies, where nuance and subtlety provide great rewards.”
One of Rachael’s strongest attributes is her lyrical and controlled phrasing as an improviser, which she delivers as if telling a story with the ease and sophistication of someone twice her age. Her sidewoman credentials are equally very impressive, performing already with such notables as Joe Locke, Arild Andersen, Tommy Smith, John Hollenbeck, Donny McCaslin, Phil Robson, Michael Janisch and Gary Versace.
Originally hailing from the Shetland Islands, Rachael began her musical education on the piano at age 4. She picked up the saxophone five years later, and quickly racked up an impressive amount of experience and accolades, kindling an early passion for improvisation. When she was 12, Miss Cohen’s family moved south from the Shetlands to Edinburgh, and she enrolled in the acclaimed City of Edinburgh Music School. There she studied with some of the UK’s most admired musicians, including saxophonist Martin Kershaw and pianist Lynda Cochrane. As a star member of both the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland and Tommy Smith’s Youth Jazz Orchestra, she played alongside great British and International artists such as Joe Locke, Arild Andersen, Tommy Smith, Michael Janisch, Ryan Quigley, Mark Bassy, and Mark Lockheart, and in spectacular venues like London’s Southbank Centre, the CBSO Centre Birm, Glasgow City Halls and Old Fruitmarket, The HUB Edin, Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, The Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Fest, Glasgow Jazz Fest, and the now-defunct IAJE Convention in Toronoto, Ontario, Canada.
In 2006, Rachael won a scholarship to enroll in Jazz Studies at The Birmingham Conservatoire to study with Julian Siegel, Jean Toussaint, Mike Williams, Hans Koller, and the late Tony Levin. Additionally, she sought out tutelage from touring artists Dave Holland, George Garzone, Lee Konitz, Mike Gibbs, Donny McCaslin, Phil Robson, Ingrid Laubrock, and Jon Irabagon during their local engagements. She even supplied the lead alto role in John Hollenbeck’s big band project, which included the talents of New York vocalist Theo Bleckmann, and piano/organ sensation Gary Versace.
Upon commencement from the Conservatoire, Rachael immersed herself in the Birmingham music scene, composing for and performing with local ensembles such as Nick Jurd’s Quartet, Jim Bashford’s Trio, and her own groups where she was heard performing at The Yardbird Jazz Club, Symphony Hall and the Midlands Arts Center. Things would all change for Cohen when in 2012 she became a recipient of the prestigious “Stepping Up” Birmingham Jazz Grant, awarded to assist in documenting her own music. It was this grant that would see Cohen make a strategic move to London and subsequently record her critically-acclaimed debut album Halftime on Whirlwind Recordings, which catapulted Cohen’s reputation to one of the premier new voices of her generation in the UK’s jazz and improvised music scene, as well as introducing her music to new listeners around the globe.
Released in November of 2013, Halftime showcases a full program of nine strikingly original compositions from the leader and a cover from the iconic Ornette Coleman titled ‘Just for You’. Cohen’s quartet features long-time associate James Bashford on drums, bassist Calum Gourlay & special guest Phil Robson on guitar, one of the UK’s most celebrated musicians. Produced by WWR’s own Michael Janisch, it received multiple accolades in the press including a 4 Star review from Jazzwise & MOJO Magazine. Cohen also supported the release with a debut album tour for which she received a Jazz Services touring grant. Currently, Cohen is busy freelancing in her new surroundings on the London scene as well as writing new music for her follow up release.