In Tune or Not in Tune... That Is the Question

Jack Bowers By

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In the introduction to her debut recording, Bloom, Japanese-born composer / arranger Asuka Kakitani Jazz Orchestra writes that she tries with her music "to capture the scenes, feelings, smells, temperatures, colors, laughs and tears of our life . . ." a purpose that is reflected in such titles as "Electric Images," "Bumblebee Garden," "Dance One," "Dragonfly's Glasses" and "Islands in the Stream." Whether she succeeds is up to the listener to decide; what can be said is that Kakitani, winner in 2006 of the BMI Charlie Parker Jazz Composition Prize, is a gifted writer, one of many young composer / arrangers who are ushering big-band jazz along new pathways while enlarging its scope and securing its relevance.

To accomplish her purpose, Kakitani has formed an eighteen-member ensemble comprised of some of the New York City area's most accomplished musicians, seasoned professionals to whom she can entrust her music without any thought of mishap. They don't let her down. The artistry is first-class, sound quality the same. As for the music, Kakitani proves beyond any doubt that her award-winning resume is accurate. Her compositions and arrangements are clear-eyed and colorful, leaning more toward Toshiko Akiyoshi than, say, Maria Schneider, Sara Serpa) leads to Kenny Berger's warm-blooded bass clarinet solo.

Even though Kakitani's themes are in the forefront, she has a number of proficient soloists in the band and is sharp enough to leave room for them to have their say, starting with trumpeter John Bailey and tenor Jason Rigby on "Bloom." Bassist Dave Ambrosio, pianist Mike Eckroth and guitarist Pete McCann are out front on "Electric Images," Serpa and trombonist Matt McDonald on "Bumblebee Garden." Drummer Mark Ferber, who leads the dexterous rhythm section, solos with alto John O'Gallagher and trombonist Jacob Garchik on "Dance One," tenor Ben Kono is featured on "Dragonfly's Glasses," while McCann, trumpeter Matt Holman and tenor Mark Small share the honors on "Islands in the Stream" and Eckroth, Ferber and trombonist Mark Patterson wrap things up on the picturesque finale, "Skip" (on which Serpa again lends her vocal talents).

While Kakitani shows that she can swing when she has to, Bloom would never be confused with Basie, Herman, Kenton or their kin. The mood is for the most part decorous, and shout choruses are rare. Having said that, it's clear that Kakitami knows her way around a big band and can bring out the best in an ensemble. That she does so on Bloom is a tribute to her unfolding expertise and vision.

NSU Jazz Ensemble
On Cue: The Music of Seamus Blake
NSU Jazz Lab

Saxophonist Seamus Blake, born in London, raised in Canada, educated in Boston and based in New York City, is a mid-stream (formerly young) lion of forty-two whose audacious roar has been heard in the acclaimed Mingus Big Band, on a number of well-received CDs on the Criss Cross, Fresh Sound and Jazz Eyes labels, and most recently in Tahlequah, OK, as guest artist with the Northeastern State University Jazz Ensemble. Not only did Blake write all the music for the NSU ensemble's sixth album, recorded in May 2012, he also solos perceptively on every number.

As a composer, Blake has Mingus' ear for an engaging melody and rhythms that swing without pretense. On the other hand, while he clearly respects Mingus as a springboard, Blake's compositions are as a rule more accessible and less thematic. They do, however, move in many cases from relatively quiet beginnings to thunderous climaxes, employing credible dissonances along the way to fan the flames, both hallmarks of Mingus' singular approach. Having played the role of sympathetic collaborator through the first half-dozen numbers, Blake chooses to give the students a saxophone lesson on the shuffling, New Orleans-style "Zydeco," unfurling a sensational unaccompanied coda that consumes more than three minutes as it closes the session on a remarkably high note.


Big Band Report Jack Bowers United States Stan Kenton Zoot Sims Kenny G Jo Stafford Bill Holman Don Menza Bobby Shew Tom Kubis Bob Curnow Mike Barone Pete Christlieb Roger Neumann Gary Urwin Bill Watrous Kim Richmond Steve Huffsteter Alan Broadbent Dizzy Gillespie Ted Heath John Dankworth Benny Goodman Louie Bellson Count Basie oscar peterson frank sinatra Bud Shank Bob Cooper Bill Perkins Conte Candoli Jiggs Whigham Pete Rugolo Frank Capp Doug Miller Milt Bernhart Shorty Rogers Maynard Ferguson Charlie Parker Manny Albam Ken Hanna Remi Bolduc Johnny Richards Rob Parton Eric Richards Mike Pinto Bob Rummage Tim Coffman B.J. Cord Victor Garcia Clark Terry Ted Hogarth Joe Henderson Thelonious Monk Mark Colby, Joe Policastro Chris Madsen John Wojciechowski Miles Davis Bill Evans Bert Joris Jim McNeely Johannes Walter Jurg Bucher Ian McDougall Ross Taggart ben webster Gene Ammons Dexter Gordon Sonny Stitt Wardell Gray Johnny Griffin Lockjaw Davis Horace Silver Woody Herman Don Thompson Kenny Dorham Ken Lister Oliver Gannon Brad Turner Craig Scott Rob McConnell Asuka Kakitani Toshiko Akiyoshi Maria Schneider Kenny Berger John Bailey Jason Rigby Dave Ambrosio Mike Eckroth Pete McCann Matt McDonald Mark Ferber John O'Gallagher Jacob Garchik Ben Kono Matt Holman Mark Small Mark Patterson Seamus Blake Russell Malone Robin Eubanks Bobby Watson Scott Robinson Marvin Stamm Bob Summers John McLean Bob Bowman Kelly Sill John LaPorta Henry Mancini Shelly Manne Dave Young Dave Pell Thad Jones Charles Mingus Hank Mobley Sam Jones Kevin Turcotte Terry Clarke Chick Webb Edgar Sampson Mike Murley Fred Sanders David Pulphus JERI SOUTHERN Peggy Lee Gene McDaniels


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