Pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi overcame numerous challenges during her long career, immigrating to a new country, establishing herself as both a top bandleader and composer/arranger, in addition to the difficulties of maintaining a large jazz ensemble. Her husband, tenor saxophonist and flutist Lew Tabackin, was a star soloist in her big band and he helped her recruit top musicians when she formed the band in 1973. Akiyoshi recorded numerous albums until disbanding the group in 2003, though many of these excellent recordings have unjustly lapsed from print.
Fortunately, Mosaic licensed five of her big band's RCA albums from the '70s, including Kogun, Long Yellow Road, Tales of a Courtesan, Insights and March of the Tadpoles, for this limited edition three-CD boxed set. While there is no mistaking Akiyoshi's bop pedigree (and particularly the influence of Bud Powell) in her rousing "Elegy," her introspective "Memory" reveals her Japanese roots with its novel use of the flute. The humorous up-tempo blues "Henpecked Old Man" is another highlight, with sparkling contributions by Tabackin, trumpeter Bobby Shew and alto saxophonist Dick Spencer.
Disc two showcases Tabackin on both flute and piccolo in the pianist's haunting "Tales of a Courtesan (Oirantan)," which also features some of her best ensemble writing. Her amusing blues "I Ain't Gonna Ask No More" is an unusual feature for contrabass trombone (an instrument rarely utilized, let alone used for solos in a big band), played by Phil Teele. The driving, insistent "Village" is a bustling affair that instead suggests a busy metropolis.
The final disc begins with the extended work "Minimata," a three-movement piece that represents the diversity of Akiyoshi's writing, combining both elements of traditional Japanese music and modern jazz. "March of the Tadpoles" is another cooker that quickly reveals itself to be a superb bop reinvention of "All the Things You Are." The surprising "Notorious Tourist From the East" actually incorporates flamenco rhythms in a hard-charging performance.
Akiyoshi's music has been so personal that others have been hesitant to explore it, though she has contributed many memorable works worthy of attention. Hopefully, this set will prompt additional reissues of her distinctive, unique music.
CD1: Elegy; Memory; Kogun; American Ballad; Henpecked Old Man; Long Yellow Road; The First Night; Opus Number Zero; Quadrille, Anyone?; Children In The Temple Ground. CD2: Since Perry / Yet Another Tear; Road Time Shuffle; Tales Of A Courtesan; Strive For Jive; I Ain't Gonna Ask No More; Interlude; Village; Studio J; Transcience; Sumie. CD3: Minamata: Peaceful Village / Prosperity & Consequence / Epilogue; March Of The Tadpoles; Mobile; Deracinated Flower; Yellow Is Mellow; Notorious Tourist From East.
John Madrid, Don Rader, Mike Price, Stu Blumberg, Steven Huffseter, Richard Cooper: trumpets; Bobby Shew: trumpet, flugelhorn; Charles Loper, Jim Sawyer, Britt Woodman, Bruce Paulson, Bill Reichenbach: trombones; Phil Teele: bass and contrabass trombones; Dick Spencer, Gary Foster: alto saxophones, flutes, clarinets; Lew Tabackin: tenor sax, flute; Tom Peterson: tenor sax, soprano sax, flute, clarinet; Bill Perkins: baritone sax, soprano sax, bass clarinet; Toshiko Akiyoshi: piano; Gene Cherico and Don Baldwin: bass; Peter Donald: drums; Scott Elsworth: voice; Tokuko Kaga: vocal (CD1#10); Lynn Nicholson: trumpet, replacing Stu Blumberg (CD1#9, CD2#2); Joe Roccisano: alto sax, replacing Gary Foster (CD1#8); Chuck Flores: drums, replacing Peter Donald (CD1#8, CD2#2); King Errison: congas (CD2#7); Hiromitsu Katada: kakko (CD2#10); Jerry Hey: trumpet, replacing Richard Cooper (CD3#1); Michiru Mariano: vocal (CD3#1); Hisao Kanze: uta; Tadao Kamei: ohtsuzumi; Hayao Uzawa: kotsuzumi.