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The naked emotion of Initiation can be so heartfelt at times that the urge to block out all external sound and focus solely on the music that issues out of the speakers is often overwhelming. Tenor saxophonist Erica Lindsay and pianist Sumi Tonooka have made a journey here that has taken them right to the center of their respective beings with some truly soul-searching music. Fortuitously they have been doubly blessed on this outing by one of the most erudite bassists today, Rufus Reid, and the sensitive shepherding of rhythm at the hands of the late percussion colorist, Bob Braye.
Saxophonist and pianist complement each other to such an extent that they sometimes appear to be in total and telepathic communion with each other. It is not hard to imagine why. They are similar in the sensitivity of touch and expression. Tonooka has hands that she controls spectacularly, right down to the fingertips. She seems to be able to imbue the same note with different meanings and emotions as her fingers might come to strike it straight or at an oblique angle. Thus her solos are daringly emotional, always full of surprise as she gives evocative voice to the notes, phrases, and lines she chooses to play. So they can be somewhat yearning or inward-looking, as the appropriately titled chart dedicated to Rob McConnell, "Mingus Mood," demands; or urgent, questioning, and groping as in "In The Void." On "Initiation" she is wonderfully girlish, skittering, and flirtatious, yet it seems the compositions fit Erica Lindsay's persona like the proverbial glove.
But the saxophonist is more than an interpreter of Tonooka's deceptively simple songs, which she does read as if she were the character in the song itself. However Lindsay has singular voice and nowhere is this more in evidence than in "Somewhere Near Heaven." Here is a song with complete and beckoning architecture built on a melody that develops from soulful roots. Its glacial edifice is gently unveiled, as Lindsay's tenor soars upward and seems to unfurl in harmonic clouds, reaching higher and tapering off into the infinite blue. Lindsay reveals how spiritually inclined she is on "Black Urgency," which reverberates with fervor and ecclesiastical zeal.
Lindsay and Tonooka might also have the most perfect-sounding quartet since some of the great bands of John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Reid adds his great intellect to the bass chair in this ensemble and plays with characteristic munificence. His solos on "Mari," "Mingus Mood," and also his melodic ensemble playing on "Black Urgency" are truly revealing. The late Braye is also superb throughout and is especially memorable on his ponderous mallet-work on "The Gift." There is no mistaking the splendid musicality and soulful emotion that runs throughout this quite memorable album. Not many sessions may come close to achieving the degree of finesse that Tonooka and Lindsay have on Initiation.
Mari; Mingus Mood; South Street; Initiation; Serpent's Tale; In the Void; Somewhere Near Heaven; Black Urgency; The Gift; Yes.