Dedicated to the memory of a city that experienced the unfathomable horrors of war in 1945, Toshiko Akiyoshi’s extended work for big band sizzles. There’s a lesson here for all mankind. In the early movements of her suite, everything’s all right. The band swings with its usual Monday night balance and tips its hat to one soloist after another. Few big bands carry on the tradition as well.
Then comes the tragedy, and everything changes for a while. Music as we know it turns sour and edgy. Akiyoshi employs the services of a Japanese narrator and a traditional flutist to convey the message from those who have fallen. The survivors wail and moan, and much remains unexplained. “Why?” is on everyone’s lips. Then John Eckert delivers a soulful blues solo unaccompanied. He’s eventually joined by Akiyoshi, as the duo reminds us of the cycles of history. Gradually, the band enters to lift spirits and convince us that all is not lost. Life goes on. Lew Tabackin’s warm flute and Tom Christensen’s effusive tenor remind us that jazz can put it all in perspective. Others join the session to testify. Like walking downtown to the tune of “St. James Infirmary,”
Akiyoshi’s “Survivor Tales” turns the orchestra loose to explain its predicament. The world is filled with such tales. The band turns it around with “Hope,” during which Tabackin’s tenor builds gradually, from a gentle ballad theme to a natural climax, which is followed by serene afterthoughts. Akiyoshi’s closing piano solo with bass and drums sparkles with a crisp, fast-fingered technique. Tabackin and the orchestra close it out with tender wishes for a lasting peace.
Conveying meaning through her jazz orchestra has always been Toshiko Akiyoshi’s forte. With Hiroshima – Rising From The Abyss, she’s assembled the pieces perfectly. Hopefully, the world will learn from this somber chapter of our history.
Long Yellow Road; Hiroshima
Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra: Toshiko Akiyoshi- piano; Lew Tabackin- tenor
saxophone, flute; Mike Ponella, Jim O