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A little more than a decade ago, when guitarist Hideaki Tokunaga was a student at Cal Arts in Valencia, California, he was named Down Beat magazine's Outstanding Jazz Soloist among collegiate musicians. Based on evidence submitted in this likable session, recorded live in June '02 at the Plaza de la Raza in Los Angeles, that was an excellent choice. Tokunaga plays almost classically, with an enviable clarity of line and tone that underlines a keen grasp of jazz convention. He also has superb taste in sidemen, surrounding himself with a quartet of able craftsmen who are not only highly compatible but consistently persuasive.
The music they produce has an almost ethereal quality at times, but that doesn't in any way subvert its effortlessly swinging core. At its heart are Tokunaga and vibraphonist Richard Greenblatt, whose gentle melodicism sets the compass for the Littletons, bassist Jeff and drummer Don, and front-liner Glenn Cashman, who doubles on tenor sax and flute (and produces a lovely sound on both).
The program consists of ten original compositions, eight by Tokunaga, the others ("Online, "Tally ) by Greenblatt. There are two versions of Tokunaga's leisurely "Sunday Drive (Cashman plays flute on the first, tenor on the other tracks, except for "Kashimier" and "Online, on which he takes a breather). Tempos are generally slow to moderate, with only the boppish "Enough of Your Childishness breaking the mold to become a lively canter. The aptly named "Kashimier, on which Don Middleton plays bongos, mirrors the exotic spirit and moods of a Middle Eastern bazaar.
This laid-back concert isn't going to knock anyone's socks off, but it wasn't meant to. It is musically solid, quite well played, brightly recorded and generously timed. As for Tokunaga, he remains the stellar soloist that Down Beat saluted more than ten years ago.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.