the self-titled debut album by tenor saxophonist Jason Nagao is an energetic mix of eight original tunes and two jazz standards performed with the fresh newness of an emerging jazz artist. While on this recording Nagao is still moving toward the mature burnish of a more seasoned performer, he certainly still demonstrates a more than merely competent ability to express himself both as a composer and a jazz improviser.
Performing with Nagao on this Highlander Records release are drummer Adam Clarke, Doug Bickel and Tom McEvoy on keyboards, bassists Dylan Locke and Tom Rau, John Schurman on trumpet and Mark Gibson on guitar.
The recording opens with a Nagao original “The Crusher.” “The Crusher” is a hard bop/soul jazz influenced piece all the way from the Adderly brothers inspired sound of the horns to the Ramsey Lewis style piano sound of Doug Bickel. Nagao solos brilliantly demonstrating his pyrotechnic abilities on the saxophone.
The Thelonious Monk tune “I Mean You” follows with Nagao expertly making his way through the angular head of the tune. His improvisation that follows is a mix of technical display and ebullient swinging. Likewise the piano solo is an upbeat flight of fancy.
The third tune on the CD, “Turning Leaf” is an original ballad in the mold of a smoky film noir soundtrack. Nagao’s sultry sounding saxophone weaves a smoldering improvisation that creates an image of a nightclub in the wee hours nearing closing time.
The soulful sound of a Hammond B-3 introduces the fourth tune on the CD “Checking Oil.” Doug Bickel on keyboards provides the necessary treatment as a prelude to Nagao’s fat sounding tenor. Both Bickel’s and Nagao’s solos are filled with interestingly witty twists and turns in this big broad blues.
“Fantasy Trip,” the fifth tune, is a Bossa Nova inspired piece, with Nagao emulating a laid back Stan Getz approach. Soloing is somewhat minimal compared to previous music on the CD. Nagao and pianist Tom McEvoy however, seem to find the right combinations to make meaningful musical statements.
The Duke Ellington classic “Solitude” follows. Nagao’s interpretation and tone is filled with a sense of longing quite appropriate to communicate the introspective loneliness imbued by this tune.
“Ben’s Bop,” another 12 bar blues original is all the tune’s title says it is. Nagao navigates a twisting and turning bop style head, supported by Doug Bickel’s Hammond B-3 sounding keyboard. After the tenor’s four solo choruses, Bickel also demonstrates his abilities in improvising substantial musical phrases.
The final selection, “Outmood,” is probably the most challenging of the tunes on Jacin Nagao to characterize. There are moments that are reminiscent of music created by Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, both in their work with the Miles Davis quintet, and also with their own independent projects during the 1960’s. There are also sounds that lie in that stylistic cusp that was extending bop, yet was not quite full blown electronic fusion. Nagao, trumpeter John Schurman, guitarist Mark Gibson, and drummer Adam Clark all put forth nice solo efforts.
Jacin Nagao, the debut effort by a rising young tenor saxophonist is certainly worthy of a listener’s attention. The quality of the tune writing, and the demonstrated musicianship, entices one to look forward to Jacin Nagao’s continued evolution as a jazz artist, and his future projects.
Personnel: Jacin Nagao, tenor saxophone Adam Clark, drums Doug Bickel, keyboards Tom McEvoy, keyboards Dylan Locke, bass Tom Rau, bass John Schurman, trumpet Mark Gibson, guitar