Kenji Omae: Here For Now (2007)
Tenor saxophonist Kenji Omae is a true man of the world. He was born in Canada, studied jazz at the University of Toronto and did graduate work at Queens College in New York City. Here For Now was recorded in one afternoon in New Jersey just a few days before Omae was to leave for South Korea, where he now performs and teaches, thus its title.
During his time in New York, he freelanced, connecting up with other adventurous mainstream players, including the outstanding sidemen on this recordingpianist George Colligan, bassist Matt Clohesy and drummer Mark Ferber. That such busy players took the time to record with Omae shows that he is highly regarded.
Omae's music is another example of the optimism and good spirits that seem to emanate from Canada. Long on energy and drive, while possessing a high degree of facility, Omae leads this quartet through an engaging set.
The saxophone is recorded a bit distantly in the mix, giving it a bit of a mysterious quality, almost as if it were floating. However, Omae does not need to be up front, because his rhythmic intensity serves him well. The rhythm section responds to the call, and keep things bubbling, perhaps bit too much from Ferber.
This is a quibble, however, since each track has a distinctive melody, and the album as a whole is paced well. While Omae's music and the arrangements (generally head-solos-recap) will not surprise experienced listeners or pin back any ears, everyone's playing is so spontaneous that a high degree of interest is maintained.
The music is called "adventurous mainstream" because it tries to be more than that which is called "straight-ahead" but without venturing beyond known boundaries. The surprise and hence the interest comes with the individual lines that Omae and Colligan play. Colligan is the perfect sideman in that his knowledge and taste is very broad, which when combined with his taste and incisive touch and taste, brings any set up a notch.
The originality of concept in Omae's music is made clear when the sum of the sounds of the first six tracks is compared to the seventh, "Train Tracks." This last composition is the most straight-ahead and predictable in the set, drawing attention to how different and personal the earlier music really is. In the end, Omae creates his own music universe, allowing us to get to know who he is.
While Omae has now left New York City, perhaps to settle down in Korea, Here For Now is a fine document of a player comfortable with himself and his own personal music.
Track Listing: Time Management; Here For Now; Draft; Across The Pond; Lucid; Kissena; Train Tracks.
Personnel: Kenji Omae: tenor saxophone; George Colligan: piano; Matt Clohesy: bass; Mark Ferber: drums.