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The DIVA Jazz Trio: Never Never Land

Jack Bowers By

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About the nicest compliment one can pay the DIVA Jazz Trio's debut recording, Never Never Land, is that the threesome's irrepressible enthusiasm and energy (not to mention their consonance and artistry) are reminiscent of the great Oscar Peterson's classic trio with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Ed Thigpen. Pianist Tomoko Ohno isn't Peterson, nor does she try to be, but she dwells in the same exalted realm, while bassist Noriko Ueda and drummer Sherrie Maricle offer stalwart impressions of Brown and Thigpen. If the trio's accord seems remarkable, a part of the reason lies in the fact that it doubles as the rhythm section for the superb all-women's big band, DIVA.

The group's choice of music is as inclusive as it is entertaining. After opening with a happy-go-lucky version of Harold Arlen/Yip Harburg's "If I Only Had a Brain" from The Wizard of Oz, the trio puts a sunny Latin spin on Chopin's graceful "Piano Nocturne No. 6" before addressing exemplary compositions by Horace Silver (the high-octane "Virgo"), Lerner and Loewe, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Fats Domino (yes, Fats Domino) and Cole Porter, plus Betty Comden/Adolph Green's wistful title selection from Peter Pan. Lerner and Loewe contribute "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" and "I Could Have Danced All Night," Rodgers and Hammerstein "My Favorite Things" and "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," and Porter the venerable "Love for Sale." If Domino/Dave Bartholomew's "I'm Walkin'" seems somewhat out of place among those celebrated standards, the trio makes it hum like a high-grade Swiss watch.

Besides working extremely well together, each member of the group is a first-class soloist, an appraisal that is borne out whenever one of them has the floor, while Maricle excels with brushes or sticks, providing taut and tasteful support in every circumstance. Ohno has impeccable technique, swings in every context, and shows she's not only able but eager to roll up her sleeves and get down and dirty on "I'm Walkin.'" As for Ueda, she does far more than simply orchestrate the tempo—even though she's a steady and invaluable time-keeper. She and her teammates make Never Never Land a delightful introductory cruise by three remarkably talented young women.


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