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Erica Lindsay / Sumi Tonooka: Initiation

Jeff Dayton-Johnson By

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Long Ago Today (Artists Recording Collective, 2008), pianist Sumi Tonooka's previous release, generated two immediate reactions. First, it seemed astonishing that so singular, strong and distinctive a player could have been flying beneath the radar for so long. Second, the rhythm section—Tonooka, bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Bob Braye—played with an unusual empathy that held the promise of ever-richer future collaborations; sadly, such hopes were dashed when Braye died in 2007, after Long Ago Today was recorded.

For both reasons, the appearance of a new Tonooka record, again featuring Reid and Braye, is especially welcome. Indeed, the material on Initiation draws from the same October 2004 sessions that produced the earlier record. Many of its arresting elements are here, including a kind of brooding intensity in the compositions and the playing.

Initiation is co-led by Erica Lindsay, a saxophonist who teaches on the music faculty at Bard College, and has a forceful, sometimes slightly wild style well-suited to Tonooka's propulsive style of improvisation. The saxophonist can be bold and bright on one number, like Stan Getz, or dark and volcanic, like David Murray, on the next. Together, both women give the impression of being slightly aggressive radicals, playing relatively sweet material; the appeal is a little like the charge that comes from hearing progressive players like Anthony Braxton or Ornette Coleman playing standards.

Regrettably, on balance, the change in format between the earlier disc and this one has the effect of diluting the impact of Tonooka's remarkable playing. The pianist's solos are well-argued, but seem shorter and less assertive than on Long Ago Today. Too, the compositions are a shade less memorable here, with the exception of the haunting "Mingus Mood," fully worthy of bassist Charles Mingus, its dedicatee.

The most formally adventurous moment comes on the set-closing "Yes," a Lindsay composition. The composition is a series of segments sequenced together: Lindsay blowing energetically over a funk beat to begin with, phasing into a high-bop episode featuring Tonooka and the rest of the group. It's also the freshest sound the quartet achieves on this strong release.

Track Listing: Mari; Mingus Mood; South Street; Initiation; Serpent's Tale; In the Void; Somewhere Near Heaven; Black Urgency; The Gift; Yes.

Personnel: Erica Lindsay: tenor saxophone; Sumi Tonooka: piano; Rufus Reid: bass; Bob Braye: drums.

Title: Initiation | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: ARC - Artists Recording Collective

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