Tomoko Omura: Roots

Dan Bilawsky By

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Japanese violinist Tomoko Omura may be ten years into a stay in the United States, but Roots clearly demonstrates that she hasn't forgotten or forsaken her homeland.

Omura left Japan and relocated to the United States in 2004, eager and ready to study at Boston's Berklee College of Music. Shortly after graduating in 2007, she released her debut—Visions (Self Produced, 2008)—which focused on original compositions. She moved once more in 2010, adopting the thriving jazz borough of Brooklyn as her home. Now, four years into her stay in New York, she returns with her sophomore effort, a collection of retooled Japanese standards that gain a new lease on life as modern jazz vehicles.

While Roots may be filled with traditionals and well-worn Japanese standards, there's nothing quaint or old-world about the way Omura delivers them. Dainty vocals give way to overlapping lines and solos buoyed with firm yet flexible support ("Antagata Dokosa (Where Are You From?)"), beautiful thoughts are unspooled and left to float in the breeze ("Hometown"), and pointed pizzicato statements give way to poised arco lines as the band rolls along ("Ge Ge Ge"). Through it all, Omura balances purity and passion in her work.

Omura's companions on this journey through Japan's musical riches are well-equipped for the trip. Pianist Glenn Zaleski and drummer Colin Stranahan are connected at the hip, communicating with near-telepathic capabilities; bassist Noah Garabedian proves to be an adept musical pillar; and guitarist Will Graefe, appearing on eight of the eleven tracks, is a player capable of delivering fire or focused warmth. One need only hear a single track like "Kojo No Tsuki (Castle In The Moonlight)" to know that this band is on to something. Garabedian sets the wheels in motion, Zaleski brings tension and release via the use of rolling quintuplets, Omura's violin speaks with mournful yet resolute tones, Stranahan slices and grooves his way through the time, and Graefe adds a little grit to the group sound. It's a standout performance, but hardly the only notable number on the album. There's much to love here, as Omura branches out from her roots on this finely focused release.

Track Listing: Antagata Dokosa (Where Are You From?); Ge Ge Ge; National Anthem; Kojo No Tsuki (Castle In The Moonlight); Tinsagu Nu Hana (Balsam Flowers); Cha Tsu Mi (Green Tea Picking); The Mountain; Soran-Bushi; Chakkiri-Bushi; Hometown; National Anthem (Reprise).

Personnel: Tomoko Omura: violin, voice; Will Graefe: guitar (1-4, 8-11); Glenn Zaleski: piano, keyboards; Noah Garabedian: double bass; Colin Stranahan: drums.

Title: Roots | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Inner Circle Music

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