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For J.G. is simply titled in honor of "jazz giants" and performed in a tribute to the immortals of the music, the pioneers of the sound, and the legends of this original art form we call jazz. The fourth album by composer/arranger/trombonist Kenichi Tsunoda's world-class big band from Tokyo pays tribute to Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, John Coltrane, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Frank Foster, Jimmy Forrest, and one of Japan's leading promoters of Ellington's music, the late composer Toru Takemitsu.
The music is classic big band stuff in an obvious Ellington/Basie groove. What is amazing about this group of musicians is how powerful their playing is. The nineteen-piece ensemble produces a sound that one would think could only come from a thirty to forty-piece symphonic orchestra. Including several original charts, all of the music was arranged by Tsunoda for the "Toru Takemitso and Duke Ellington Volume 2" jazz concert held in May 2005.
A fast-paced bebop number, Dizzy Gillespie's "Be Bop," opens up the set with a salvo of trumpets and rumbles through a terrific trumpet section. Richard Rodgers' "My Favorite Things," made famous by Julie Andrews in the movie The Sound of Music, never sounded so good. Tsunoda's arrangement of this classic turns it into a perky, fun, and exciting big band number. "For Takemitsu #2" is a saxy tribute to the late composer with a range of solos from the reeds. A sweet piece of music is "Memories of Duke," a slow melancholy ballad that captures the nostalgic and emotional music of the '40s-style big band sounds, of which Ellington was a part. There's some more fine sax solo work here.
The title number, "For J.G.," is ten minutes of dark, downtempo, introspective music that includes a high-pitched crescendo of saxophones. Ellington's "The Single Petal of A Rose" starts out slowly and never really crests. It is followed by three "real" big band numbers. One of the best is "Shiny Stockings," a Frank Foster composition and Basie standard, a heck of an ensemble piece that builds up to an explosive finish. "Donna Lee" and "Night Train" are the other two, played with sizzling energy. These three tracks define this album. Tsunoda completes his tribute to the "Giants" with the "Ballade," a mellow and moving piece of music dedicated to Takemitsu.
The leading ensemble in the Japanese jazz world, the Kenichi Tsunoda Big Band is an example which demonstrates that jazz transcends boundaries and cultures. A great big band with a tradition from a place where tradition is very important. To borrow an honorable custom, Kenichi Tsunoda and this magnificent orchestra deserve a bow for a compelling big band album.
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.