While the influence and adaptability of European sources to modern jazz is a given, there seems to be little credit or credibility given to the Asian subcontinent. With his Asian American Jazz Trio, consisting of pianist Ted Lo and bassist Rufus Reid, drummer Akira Tana looks to Chinese and Japanese folk songs, television theme songs and popular music for inspiration. The result, Moon Over the World
, is a fascinating and engaging blend of Oriental themes with contemporary post bop.
Tana’s career extends back over twenty years, dozens of recordings and work with artists including Kenny Burrell, Sonny Rollins, Cedar Walton and Dizzy Gillespie, in addition to Tanareid, the group he has co-led for over ten years with Reid. Even at it most urgent, its most insistent, there is a certain delicacy to his playing. Rufus Reid is one of the busiest bassists in jazz, having appeared on well over two-hundred and fifty recordings with artists including Kenny Barron, Donald Byrd, Art Farmer and Dexter Gordon. Like Tana, there is a certain restraint about his playing, an understated sense of swing. Lo has recorded with artists including Ron Carter, Michael Franks, Herbie Mann and Airto Moreira/Flora Purim. Mirroring Tana’s approach, there is a certain deftness, a clear tenderness, even on more energetic pieces like Lo’s own “Jewel’s Eyes.”
The three tracks based on traditional folk tunes have simple themes that are taken into post bop territory by way of Lo’s re-harmonizing the simple changes, and the simpatico of Tana and Reid’s rhythm section work. “Condor Man,” based on a folk song that was the theme for a popular kung fu television show, is treated as a fast samba; “Reflections of Love” centers around a light rhythmic pulse that breaks into an incredibly fast but light swing for Lo’s breakneck solo; the title track is poignant and pretty, certainly the most pop-oriented piece on the album.
In addition to one original each from the members of the trio, there are two pieces by contemporary Japanese writer Hiroshi Miyagawa; “Chinese Fingers” is so reminiscent of Horace Silver that Tana decided to include an actual Silver piece, the more brooding “Sweet Stuff.” The trio’s reading of the Jaco Pastorius staple “Three Views of a Secret” is rhythmically looser than most recorded versions; pared down to the trio format, the essential beauty of the piece is revealed.
Moon Over the World may only be the second album released by Tana as a leader, but, while it is clearly the work of a collective with remarkable empathy, he exhibits all the characteristics of a good leader: an ability to put together an attractive program with a concept, performed by a trio of musicians who clearly understand where he is trying to take it. Subtle and distinctive, Moon Over the World sheds light on a musical source that is far too rarely mined.