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Sumi Tonooka: NOW: Solo Live at the Howland Cultural Center (2012)

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Sumi Tonooka: NOW: Solo Live at the Howland Cultural Center How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

There are some jazz players who suffer an unusually large gap between their credentials and their renown. Pianist Sumi Tonooka is a case in point. She studied with Mary Lou Williams
Mary Lou Williams
Mary Lou Williams
1910 - 1981
piano
, made her recording début with Detroit trumpeter Marcus Belgrave
Marcus Belgrave
Marcus Belgrave
b.1936
trumpet
(of Motown/Tribe Records fame), and was part of Philly Joe Jones
Philly Joe Jones
Philly Joe Jones
1923 - 1985
drums
's band. Two especially strong albums—Long Ago Today (Artists Recording Collective, 2008) and Initiation (Artists Recording Collective, 2010, with saxophonist Erica Lindsay
Erica Lindsay
b.1955
sax, tenor
)—exhibited a distinctive Williams-like piano style, with strong original compositions. Given this résumé, one wonders why Tonooka is not mentioned in the same breath as significantly better-known pianists.

This lack of renown seems not to trouble Tonooka however, whose attention is focused on crafting music of especial depth. NOW finds the pianist in concert at the Howland Cultural Center in Beacon, New York, performing a solo piano set. The program is broadly autobiographical, with the first disc honoring Williams' influences, from Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
1899 - 1974
piano
to Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
, and the second made up of selections from her own impressive songbook.

A long "Mary Lou Williams Medley" occupies the emotional and musical center of gravity of the first disc—of the whole album, arguably. The medley begins with a deliberate and faithful version of saxophonist John Stubblefield
John Stubblefield
John Stubblefield
1945 - 2005
saxophone
's "Baby Man" (especially redolent of two performances by Williams on her excellent live Free Spirits (Steeplechase, 1975)). Williams' own "Waltz Boogie" and "Dirge Blues" follow "Baby Man." Meanwhile, Monk's "Evidence," brightly played, is another tour de force.

The second disc traverses Tonooka's biography, with episodes of travel to Africa ("Sojourn 1 and Uganda") and high points of her discography. "Mingus Mood," a standout track on Initiation thanks to Lindsay's saxophone and Reid's bass, sounds, if anything, better as solo piano, and neatly echoes the Williams medley from the first disc.

A playful rendition of Eubie Blake
Eubie Blake
Eubie Blake
1883 - 1993
piano
's "I'm Confessin' That I Love You" concludes. Somehow, the encore—like the entire disc—manages to embrace a century of jazz piano while sounding as contemporary as the record's title: NOW, indeed.

Track Listing: CD1: I Hear A Rhapsody; Heaven; I'm Old Fashioned; Mary Lou Williams Medley (Baby Man/Waltz Boogie/Dirge Blues); Evidence; All of You. CD2: Phantom Carousel; Soujourn 1 and Uganda; Moroccan Daze; Mingus Mood; At Home; I'm Confessin'.

Personnel: Sumi Tonooka: piano.

Record Label: ARC - Artists Recording Collective

Style: Modern Jazz


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