Toronto Star Article

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Toronto Star Article

Post by Anne » Thu Apr 26, 2007 1:27 pm

Feeding a Cohen collaboration

The key to Leonard Cohen's heart seems to have something to do with food.

"He just bought me the most beautiful lunch ... sushi, chicken, a lovely salad, and he chose it all himself," a delighted Anjani Thomas coos over the phone from a Manhattan restaurant, while the 73-year-old Canadian music icon, and her significant other for the past eight years, hovers audibly nearby.

The 48-year-old Honolulu-born jazz singer and songwriter, a former member of Cohen's concert band, goes by her first name only, now that she is a star in her own right. She's co-creator with the famed composer and poet of 10 songs on the album Blue Alert, and the only artist to whom Cohen has allowed complete access to his oeuvre.

Just how Anjani – pronounced with the emphasis on the last vowel – gained his confidence when countless others have failed is no big mystery, she explains. "If you make him dinner often enough he warms up."

It was after one such dinner that Anjani, who's slipping into town for her Canadian debut performances at the Drake tonight and tomorrow, noticed a typed lyric lying on his desk.

"I asked him if I could read it," she continues. "The poem was `Blue Alert' and he later told me he had his own arrangement in mind, his own idea for making it into a song.

"I was immediately intrigued by the lyric. It was dangerous and sensual. I asked him if I could put it to a melody. He very generously said yes."

When she brought the finished song to Cohen, Anjani asked him whether he'd consider recording it.

"It was not my intention to take it for myself. He said, `It's beautiful just the way it is, and I could never sing it as well as you.'"

That was the start of a collaborative process during which Anjani put her own melodies and minimalist piano arrangements to some complete and previously published Cohen poems – including "The Mist" and "Nightingale," which Cohen recorded years ago, with his own music – and fragments ("Thanks For The Dance," "No One After You," "The Golden Gate") that he submitted for her perusal.

"Other than `Blue Alert,' the only complete poem that he had not put to music was `Half The Perfect World,'" she says. "It was, for the most part, a standard collaboration: he wrote the words, I wrote the music."

When the songs were ready, Cohen offered to produce an album, Anjani's first major recording. It was released in Canada last summer, with appearances in record stores by both artists.

"No one would turn down this opportunity," she says. "But he would not have approved my contributions on the basis of our closeness. He doesn't make those kinds of compromises with his work. He believes the music lives up to the lyrics."

The collaboration will continue, she adds.

Cohen, who has introduced Anjani at a handful of showcases in Europe – Blue Alert is a Top 10 item there – and is reported to sit front and centre whenever she performs, in Zen-like bliss, won't be in Toronto for her Canadian debut.

"I'd much rather have him with me," she says. "He's my rock."

Apr 25, 2007 04:30 AM
Greg Quill
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Post by dick » Thu Apr 26, 2007 3:35 pm

Thanks Anne

Be sure to tell us whatever you can find out about the Toronto gig.

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Post by Anne » Thu Apr 26, 2007 6:09 pm

I went to the first Toronto show at the Drake last night. It was great. I had a wonderful time. Anjani was in fine voice, no surprise there, and her new band was just wonderful. I really enjoyed the way they reworked the tunes from the album. It sounded cool with the different instruments added, it added a whole new spin to the songs. Anjani seemed very pleased to be in Canada again. She said very kind things about this country. It was a lovely evening.
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Metro Article

Post by Anne » Fri Apr 27, 2007 12:06 am ... ment=False

Anjani’s whirlwind
Singer’s busy, packed year makes up for lost time

Blue Alert is the artistic collaboration between Anjani and Leonard Cohen.

The new voice of Leonard Cohen has had barely a moment to catch her breath.

It actually isn’t quite new anymore — Anjani’s Blue Alert was released almost a full year ago, delivering Cohen’s inescapably evocative words in her slow, silken voice. But those 12 months have soared over Anjani. When she’s asked what to make of it all, she instead offers up a sigh.

“Life is so full and busy I haven’t had much time to look back,” she says. “So much has changed and yet I feel like it was just yesterday. I’ve investigated a phenomenon that’s called time acceleration where you accomplish so much, there’s so much to do, that you never get quite caught up in the whole thing.”

It’s a new phenomenon for Anjani — she admits there were “entire years when I was so bored and had nothing to do” and even mentions years of depression that only lifted halfway through her 30s. Blue Alert, however, was far from her introduction into music. The Hawaii native was professionally trained in guitar, piano and voice; she’s circled the jazz clubs of Manhattan and released independent albums in 2000 and 2001.

But from crafting an album based on snippets of Cohen’s writing — from a published poem to a single line jotted in a journal — she’s described the experience, in past interviews, as “the greatest musical experience of my life” and “the beginning of my career.” Strange, then, that Anjani admits none of it was expected.

“I think we were both surprised — I didn’t really know where this record was going as it was evolving,” she says. “I think the genesis of it started several years ago, actually. It’s hard to say when you’re hitting the coconuts 40 times that the last hit breaks it and suddenly you get the great milk. Who’s to say it was the last hit or all the preceding ones?”

It’s not quite a “last hit” though. Anjani’s recently put together a band and, although the last year’s been a blur, the future comes across quite clear.

“Now that I have a group of musicians, the music is coming alive in a very different way,” she says, noting the next album will still feature much of Cohen’s timeless lyricism but, this time, accompanied by her own “pearl or two.”

“I feel like I’m living the songs in such a totally new way,” she adds. “It’s really quite exciting.”

Nina Dragicevic/Metro Toronto
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