Composer, bandleader and pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi has tucked yet another significant feather into her cap with Hiroshima.
Her new CD was recorded live at the composition's debut performance in its namesake city on August 6th, 2001, the 56th anniversary of that fateful 1945 day.
The 15-minute first movement of the emotional three-part suite begins with "Futility," a seasonal blowing of reeds and brass. Swirling leaves touch ground then take flight. Flutes and reeds join the brass horns as the tempo of swinging drums escalates in preparation for soloists and the lurking inevitability. Lew Tabackin, the orchestra's prime soloist who plays soaring Asian-inspired flute, also can blow an energetic and emotional tenor. Letting the wind pick up his suit tail, Tabackin – one of jazz's most underrated soloists – incorporates the blowing theme into his always momentous leads.
Jim Rotondi's thick trumpet solo blisters with concise projection, ending – as with Tabackin – into a forceful tempo of tornado-like notes from the orchestra. Dave Pietro (alto sax) riffs over swinging drum breaks and accompaniment before the beginning of the first movement's second section, "Tragedy." George Kawaguchi's bombarding drum solo precedes the Ornette-like Free Jazz atonal pandemonium of horns, representing the explosive moment “Little Boy” hit.
A reader mysteriously comes from out of the rubble looking skyward. "Survivor Tales" begins with quotes in Japanese taken from "Mother's Diaries" (from the Hiroshima Memorial Museum). Accompanied by traditional Korean flute, each move over a bagpipe-like drone of reeds and winds. It's an eerie scene that eventually features John Eckert's solo – then rumbling piano-accompanied – solemn trumpet plea. Instrumental accounts are passed down by Tabackin (flute), Tom Christensen (tenor), and Scott Whitfield (trombone), each eventually sharing their patiently phrased stories in romantic exchanges, recalling with fondness pre-bomb Hiroshima.
As the orchestral background becomes warmer they intertwine into a tightly knit apex with drums moving from brushes to sticks. The orchestra's final echoing notes bleed into the chiming of a symbolic church bell - the beginning of the final movement, "Hope." Concluding most of Akiyoshi's live sets since 9-11 as either an orchestral feature or piano piece, "Hope" showcases Tabackin (tenor) beautifully bringing home the final movement's intent.
With the end of this year marking the culmination of five years of the orchestra's Monday night residency at Birdland, this month's Carnegie Hall appearance by the Akiyoshi Orchestra will doubly serve as the ensemble's 30th anniversary, as well as a farewell. With the obvious significance, Akiyoshi has decided to present the U.S. debut of her Hiroshima.
Personnel: Toshiko Akiyoshi - Piano;
George Kawaguchi - Drums;
Jim Snidero - Flute, Alto Sax;
Lew Tabackin - Flute, Tenor Sax;
Scott Robinson - Bass Clarinet, Baritone Sax;
Scott Whitfield - Trombone, Bass Trombone;
Steve Armour - Trombone, Bass Trombone;
John Eckert - Trumpet;
Dave Pietro - Flute, Alto Sax;
Mike Ponella - Trumpet;
Jim Rotondi - Trumpet;
Valtinho - Percussion;
Andy Watson - Drums;
Jim O'Connor - Trumpet;
Tom Christensen - Flute, Tenor Saxophone;
Tim Newman - Bass Trombone
Paul Gill - Bass
Won Jang-Hyun - Flute