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Extended Analysis

Chie Imaizumi: Unfailing Kindness

By Published: March 12, 2007
Chie Imaizumi
Unfailing Kindness
Capri Records

Thanks, Greg. Sometimes all it takes to launch a promising career is a chance meeting, in this case between trumpeter Greg Gisbert and young composer/arranger Chie Imaizumi. The two met in March 2005 at the Jazz Standard in NYC, where Gisbert was playing with Maria Schneider's orchestra. Imaizumi asked Gisbert if she might send him a demo tape she had made at the North Sea Jazz Festival to elicit his opinion about her writing. The result of that modest request is Imaizumi's remarkable debut album, Unfailing Kindness, for which Gisbert found a label, chose the musicians, set up rehearsals and unearthed gigs at the Dazzle nightclub in Denver to hone the band's chops before going into the studio to record.

Yes, Gisbert was duly impressed by Imaizumi's undiscovered talent, as I daresay you will be too. Imaizumi (pronounced ee-my-zoo-mee) began playing the organ at age four in Saitama, Japan, then switched to piano while studying at Senzoku Gakuen Junior College in Kanagawa. After enrolling at the Berklee College of Music in 2001, she shifted her focus to writing and arranging and won the Herb Pomeroy Award for Composing in 2003. Imaizumi performed her own compositions at the North Sea event a year later, hence the demo tape she sent to Gisbert.

Stylistically, Imaizumi reminds me of another superb Japanese composer/pianist, Toshiko Akiyoshi, deftly blending influences from East and West into a varied banquet that is not only melodically and harmonically pleasing but swings in the best jazz tradition. It takes a moment or so to connect with the opening number, "Change For The Better, but once the bond has been formed one can't be less than energized by its indelible refrain and irresistible West Indian rhythms, leading to incandescent solos by Gisbert, baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan, percussionist Manavihare "Mimy Fiaindratovo and pianist Jeff Jenkins.

Much of Imaizumi's music is thematic. "The More The Merrier is a buoyant party song with a conspicuous New Orleans vibe, "Unfailing Kindness a heartfelt homage in 5/4 time to the composer's family who have always stood by her. Jenkins and trombonist Alex Heitlinger solo on "Merrier, soprano saxphonist John Gunther and tenor saxophonist Peter Sommer on "Kindness. Imaizumi wrote the pensive "Lonely... to describe her ambivalent emotions while on tour in Europe, and the edgy "Adversity to underline the ceaseless struggles one encounters in life. Gisbert (on flugelhorn) and guitarist Mike Abbott share solo honors on "Lonely..., Abbott, Jenkins and trumpeter Ron Miles on "Adversity.

No session is complete, of course, without one impulsive flag-waver, and Imaizumi provides it with "Round And Round, a bop-oriented wailer based on rhythm changes with some capricious twists to reinforce fiery statements by Gisbert, Smulyan, Fiaindratovo and drummer Paul Romaine. The last track, "Another Day, is a gospel-flavored homily about overcoming unpleasant experiences and moving forward toward a brighter and more productive tomorrow. Lyric by Tsunenori "Lee Abe, vocal by Jeremy Ragsdale, alto saxophone solo by Gunther.

Let's hope that Imaizumi's impressive entrée signals the emergence of a new wave of talented young jazz composers and arrangers. If she has any more tunes like these in the trunk, there's no doubt we'll be hearing more from her, and soon. Oh, and thanks again, Greg.

Tracks: A Change For The Better; The More The Merrier; Unfailing Kindness; Lonely...; Round And Round; Adversity; Another Day.

Personnel: Chie Imaizumi: composer, arranger; Greg Gisbert, Ron Miles: trumpet, flugelhorn; John Gunther: alto, soprano saxophone, flute, didgeridoo; Peter Sommer: tenor, soprano saxophone, flute, clarinet; Gary Smulyan: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Alex Heitlinger: trombone; Mike Abbott: guitar; Jeff Jenkins: piano, Hammond B3 organ; Mark Simon: bass; Paul Romaine: drums; Manavihare "Mimy Fiaindratovo: percussion; Jeremy Ragsdale: vocal (7).

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