Saco Yasuma discovered jazz in New York when she moved there from Tokyo in 1989. While she loved the freedom that the music offered, she also immersed herself in Afro-pop, salsa and Brazilian music. It was a defining moment when she discovered that free jazz was the ultimate form of improvisation.
Yasuma shows strong evidence of her ability to dissect, deconstruct and build. She stamps these attributes completely on "A Wind Blew Into My Hands, a solo outing. In less than three minutes she rides a storm of sound. Her alto raises its voice to dwell on the melody and then glides away. Intensity comes in a surge of bent notes and hard-hitting phrases.
"Calm Water tells a different story. Yasuma plays the xaphoon on this folk tune, her vision straight ahead as she keeps the melody largely intact, filling it with an occasional billow. Trumpeter Roy Campbell Jr. and bass clarinetist Andrew Bemkey enhance the luminosity with delicately ornate lines. This dip in the mainstream works like a charm.
A bright spark runs through "Liquid Entity with Campbell and Bemkey (now playing piano) on the head before Campbell breaks loose to open a welter of notes that has him on the bop line, growling the blues and coming off like Dizzy Gillespie. His ideas serve the cause well. Yasuma takes the force and invests it with her own imagination. She uses form and content as well as she does free idioms, making every phrase potent. Bemkey dips in on the melody, his rich harmonies are rewarding before the end comes in an eruption of open-ended, erudite playing from Yasuma.
Yasuma sits comfortably at the cross roads of composition and freedom to make some telling statements.
Track Listing: Invisible Matters; Liquid Entity; Fat Orange Moon; The Fifth Season; Calm Water; Labyrinth; Straight Upwards; A Wind Blew Into My Hands; Another Rain.
Personnel: Saco Yasuma: alto sax and xaphoon (bamboo sax); Roy Campbell Jr: trumpet and flugelhorn (1-3, 5-8); Andrew Bemkey: piano, bass clarinet; Ken Filiano: bass; Michael T.A. Thompson: soundrhythium percussion; Golda Solomon: words (3).
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.