Jay Thomas, Wataru Hamasaki, and Geoffrey Keezer divide the lion's share of jazz improvisation on this May, 2004 session taped at Ironwood Studios in Seattle, and while Thomas (a veteran Northwest trumpeter gaining international attention) and Keezer (whose resume includes stints with Art Farmer and Ray Brown) are well-established players, Hamasaki is a virtual unknown. Now here he is playing with the big boys, and making a big impression.
Thomas encountered Hamasaki on a recent sojourn to the land of the rising sun, where Jay is an honorary member of the all-Japanese CUG big band. On this twelve-tune session the Japanese saxophonist reveals a full, buoyant tenor tone, legato phrasing, and a sophisticated musical awareness. Certainly, Hamasaki displays more improvisational ability than most Japanese players, who are often expert imitators but struggle to find their own voice.
Geoffrey Keezer unleashes a host of memorable moments on this date. His creation "Accidentally Yours (originally written for Art Farmer's band) serves as the title track. Keezer's touch on the keyboard is to be marveledeach note rings distinctly audible in the midst of skillfully sculpted, rapid solo runs. Vintage Keezer blasts straight out of the chute on "For a Change, a hard bop, funkified shuffle written by Hamasaki and reminiscent of Wayne Shorter's '60s compositional gems. Keezer's working trio, consisting of ex-Seattleite Jon Wikan on drums and Matt Clohesy on bass, round out the rhythm section and bring integral elements of fun and familiarity to the proceedings. Wikan's tune "Tony's Town deserves note as a session highlight.
In his role as bandleader, Thomas is heard to advantage throughout, most notably on the trumpet/piano duo "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone. It's his only ballad on the session and he gives a gravity-free, impressionistic reading. In vivid contrast, Thomas snuggles into his old school bebopper comfort zone on Lennie Niehaus's "Malibu Party and Jessica Williams' double-time burner "Joy.
The pairing of Thomas and Hamasaki is likely to leave a lasting impression on your musical consciousness. Their rich trumpet-and-tenor sound on unison harmonic passages (Keezer's "Free Verse ) and back-and-forth bouts of solo horn tag (Clohesy's "No Fun Intended ) are the dominant forces at play on this disc. As bright as young Hamasaki shines on his American recording debut, it's clear that Thomas knows a real jazz musician when he hears one. For this cross-cultural collaboration the old-school vet deserves our thanks and some extra noodles in his bento box.