Pianist Katori Yoshihiko is apparently one of Japan’s younger bandleaders, and the music he writes for his orchestra tends to mirror that freshly minted point of view. This takes some getting used to, but once one does, Riverside Music Garden, even with its unbecoming veneer of rock, fusion and synth, is more often than not likeable, and there can be no doubt that it is exceedingly well–played. The disc opens with Yoshihiko’s impulsive, off–center arrangement of Branislau Kaper’s “Invitation” and closes with Herbie Hancock’s “Speak Like a Child.” Sandwiched between are seven of Yoshihiko’s forward–looking compositions, the most persuasive of which are the colorful “Carnaval” and the ballad “Evans Evans Evans” (dedicated to Gil, not Bill). Soloists are listed only in Japanese, but they’re consistently enterprising, especially the alto saxophonist on “Carnaval,” soprano on “Evans” and trumpeters (perhaps all of them) on “A View of the Picture.” Yoshihiko’s “Concerto for Coockie” (Cootie?), dedicated to Duke Ellington, simulates an old 78–rpm recording, complete with surface noise and cavernous ambiance. On “Picture,” Nathan Ingram III introduces the members of the band (in English) while the music shuffles along behind him. Whether or not one warms to the concept of Riverside Music Garden, he must concede that Yoshihiko has a clear vision of how he wants his music and his orchestra to sound, and provides the building blocks to transform that vision into reality. It does require some work to appreciate what he is doing, and only the open–minded need apply.
Track listing: Invitation; India; Riverside Music Garden Waltz; Carnaval; Evans Evans Evans; Concerto for Coockie; Dusk in the Cameroun Highlands; A View of the Picture; Speak Like a Child (64:13).
Yoshihiko Katori, leader, piano, vibes, xylophone, programming; Eric Miyashiro, Koji Nishimura, Sho Okumura, Tomonao Hara, Mike Price, trumpet; Yoichi Murata, Haruki Sato, Masahiko Kitahara, Mitsuaki Uchida, trombone; Osamu Yoshida, Seiji Tada, alto sax; Tatsuya Sato, Bob Zung, Fumio Hayashi, tenor sax; Osamu Koike, baritone sax; Toshiki Nunokawa, guitar; Osamu Koichi, bass; Masahiko Osaka, drums; Mark DeRose, percussion; Nathan Ingram III, narration.