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.