Anjani borrows lyrics from mentor, boyfriend,
Leonard Cohen for Blue Alert

by Angela Pacienza

The Canadian Press Yahoo!

April 30, 2006
TORONTO (CP) - Few people get to sift through the private notes of Leonard Cohen.

But as his romantic partner, Anjani Thomas was afforded access fans can only dream of. "I saw a poem he'd just finished writing. It was on his desk and I said 'This is so great. I'd love to give this song a chance.' He said 'Well, I've already done it. I've got something in mind,"' recalled the soft-spoken singer in an interview earlier this year.

The Honolulu-born jazz artist - who lives down the street from Cohen's Los Angeles home - put the poem to song anyway.

The result set the wheels in motion for her CD, Blue Alert, out May 2 in Canada.

"He was very kind to let me give it a whirl," said Thomas who first met Cohen in the mid-1980s when she was a background vocalist on his seminal track "Hallelujah." She went on to tour with him as keyboardist and backup singer.

After recording that initial song, Thomas requested more material from the legendary wordsmith.

"We started rummaging through things. He was very generous and extremely accommodating," she said. "There were no complete songs . . . some things he'd have 20 or 30 verses and I'd just take the five or six that I liked."

The pairing is unusual as Cohen - who joined Thomas midway through the interview - is not known for working with other artists.

Bizarrely, Cohen says Thomas's album got made, in part, because of his recent legal battle with a former business manager.

"Because of this dreadful case, the litigation and the obligation to stay in one place, I guess we had to do something between meals," said the Montreal-born Cohen, referring to his need to stay in Los Angeles to attend legal proceedings.

"(Blue Alert) was a mysterious process because neither of us set out to produce a record. I've known Anjani for many, many years . . . We're neighbours in the deepest sense of the word. Never has it arisen, never did the prospect arise between us in the thousands of conversations and cups of coffee and meals we've shared did the possibility of a record together ever arise."

Cohen said he decided to also produce the album when "Anjani's voice dropped from her throat to her heart."

Listeners will immediately recognize Cohen's thumbprint. The 10 tracks have a sensual sparseness to them. Thomas's dreamy, breathy vocals are laid over top soft, smooth jazz melodies.

Thomas, who started her music career playing piano as a child, has recorded vocals on three of Cohen's albums: I'm Your Man, The Future and Dear Heather.

She's recorded two other albums of her own, but says this one feels like her first.

"I can see that I wasn't really fully present in myself before. Once we started working on these songs everything started to gel," she said.

While Thomas relied on Cohen's words, she was very careful to only select verses close to her heart.

"I couldn't sing it unless I believed it. There was a lot that I was able to go through. We did pull out a lot of ideas but in the end, only certain ones really resonated with me," she explained.

Cohen, for his part, was meticulous about how the material was recorded. Thomas recalled one recording session for the song, "Innermost Door" where Cohen made her re-do several times.

"I started off singing it with a real country feel. Leonard said it's really good but the feel is wrong,"' she recalled.

He told her to sing it like she was "a peasant from Paris and leaving Europe for the last time and you're never going to see your country again."

"I tried that and that's the version that you hear. It's a very different take on what everyone probably sees as the love song of a man-woman relationship."

In addition to writing and producing Anjani's album, Cohen has been keeping busy working on a new book of poetry to be released mid-May as well as a new album of his own.

"I'm always blackening pages and scratching away," he said. "That particular crisis produced a real financial problem. What it did do was promote a kind of swiftness in gathering the material together and presenting it."

"If anything, it's just got things going."