Circumstance is not always kind, decreeing course and matter. In the case of pianist Sumi Tonooka, circumstance dictated that she wait for ten years before she had the opportunity to record as a leader. The last time she did so was in 1999 on Secret Places
, released on Kenny Barron's label, Joken Records.
Tonooka plays with a strong commitment to melody and improvisation. She gets into the nectar of a tune and then draws out all of its delights. Her path to invention is filled with nuance and surprise, encompassed in an abiding musicality.
Tonooka has bassist Rufus Reid, who has played with her for over 25 years, and Bob Braye on drums. They are in empathy with her thought and moves, and together shape an album that is as delightful as it is heart warming.
The chemistry between the three is manifested from the opening pirouette of "Be the Dance," which is in 6/8 time. Tonooka sparks the melody and then propels it on, letting the intensity gain a gentle edge. She shows a compact sense of ideas, changing the pulse and the tempo with her phrasing. Reid and Braye heat the rhythm bed, constantly spurring Tonooka, and help turn the tune into an attention-grabber.
"Renewal" works on several levels. It has a gospel undertone but is constructed as a ballad. Tonooka deliberates over the melody, letting it seep in. She then opens it with loquacious notes, her runs stamping a quick emphasis. In the process the music gains a whole new, reverberating dimension. Braye adds splashes of color with his agile rhythm, while Reid is the bastion that keeps the beat in the groove.
"Moroccan Daze" is a bright, snappy tune that jumps from the lower register of the piano. Tonooka once again shows her considerable technique as she brings in block chords to complement her innovations. With the trio drinking deeply from the Moroccan rhythm, the tune captivates with its vibrant energy.
Tonooka's music is beautifully conceived and enthralling; a constant joy that will hopefully be followed up more often.
Personnel: Sumi Tonooka: piano; Rufus Reid: bass; Bob Braye: drums.