Erica Lindsay / Sumi Tonooka: Initiation (2010)
Pianist Sumi Tonooka and tenor saxophonist Erica Lindsay are the leaders on Initiation, having contributed five compositions each. It's the chemistry and the collective organic spontaneity of the whole quartet, however, that moves the sound into the level of top-tier excellence. Bassist Rufus Reid constructs solid, big-sound foundations, and drummer Bob Braye who, sadly, passed away after this recording was made bustles and tromps with a fierce percussive fire on the up-tempo tunes and whispers with a fine finesse on the ballads. It is a sense of a fearless voyage of discovery and, often, an informed abandon and spontaneity that defines Initiation.
The Philadelphia-bred Tonooka, early on in her career, worked with Miles Davis first great quintet alum Philly Jo Joneswho, evidently, had an ear for fine and distinctive pianists, having also employed Jessica Williams in the early part of her career. Tonooka and co-leader Lindsay are rather under-recordeda handful of CDs for Tonooka as a leader, a couple for Lindsay. It seems a rectification of that situation is underway, first with Tonooka's well-received trio outing, Long Ago Today (Artists Recording Collective, 2008), and now the set at hand.
The set opens with Lindsay's "Mari," a tune full of positive vibes and a bright rhythmic drive. Lindsay's sax approach has been compared to that of the late Joe Henderson, perhaps for her labyrinthine, surprise-filled solos and smooth articulation. Her distinctive tone is all her own muscular, expansive and oddly diaphanous, with a tangy metallic hue. Tonooka's "Mingus Mood" has a mournful sense of loss, in a "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" mode. It's a gorgeous, dark-toned ballad without a single wasted note. Her "South Street" recalls John Coltrane's great quartet with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones. It's a tune full of fluid yet implacably forward momentum featuring an adventurously spiritual solo by the pianist.
The Tonooka-penned title track bounces between Thelonious Monk-like angularity and Cecil Taylor-style freedom, with Lindsay taking a spot that sounds at first quite traditional before things scatter. The band then regroups on Tonooka's tight, crisp eighty-eight foray. Lindsay's "Serpent's Tale" begins with an intimate conversation between the saxophonist and bassist Reid. It hits a groove, with Tonooka sparkling then spreading out to allow a rumbling trio interlude, with Lindsay sounding impassioned, as always.
With Initiation, Erica Lindsay and Sumi Tonooka offer up a fresh and adventurous take on the piano trio and saxophone quartet format.
Track Listing: Mari; Mingus Mood; South Street; Initiation; Serpent's Tale; In the Void; Somewhere Near Heaven; Black Urgency; The Gift; Yes.
Personnel: Erica Lindsay: tenor saxophone; Sumi Tonooka: piano; Rufus Reid: bass; Bob Braye: drums.