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The world has been a slightly less happy place since Junko Onishi's last record.
After establishing herself as one of the finest young jazz pianists around with her debut, Wow (EMI, 1993), Onishi released a string of fine Blue Note recordings: Live At The Village Vanguard Volume 1 and Volume 2 (both 1994); the superb Cruisin' (1994), featuring her majestic "Eulogia"; and Piano Quintet Suite (1995).
With Fragile (Blue Note, 1999)a virtual rock covers album that took on Jimi Hendrix
and The Righteous BrothersOnishi's recorded output all but vanished in the U.S., while the pianist reportedly released a number of CDs in Japan.
Now on Verve, Onishi is back with another unpredictable but typically excellent effort. A more lavish-sounding record than the rock n' raw Fragile, Baroque gives Onishi the opportunity to showcase her formidable compositional and arranging skills.
Working with durable and longtime band members Rodney Whitaker
Baroque is Onishi's show, yet every musician shines brightly. Riley and Gordon solo engagingly in avant-garde fashion on the album's obvious highlight, "The Three Penny Opera," which, according to the liners, features a piano solo based a musical score by Onishi's mentor and friend, the great Jaki Byard
. This Onishi original is both a surprise and a revelation, with all the musicians allowed to stretch more than on her previous recordings.
As evidenced by the album's opener, "Tutti," Onishi's style has now allowed for a more improvisational approach. In some of her earlier records, her classical training sometimes kept things rather tight. But on numbers like bassist Charles Mingus