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Akiko Tsuruga: So Cute, So Bad

Dan Bilawsky By

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On more than one occasion I've sat back while listening to jazz organ giants of yore and thought to myself, "they don't make 'em like this anymore." And while it's true that one-of-a-kind greats like Jimmy Smith, Shirley Scott, Big John Patton, Brother Jack McDuff, Charles Earland, and Jimmy McGriff are gone for good, and nobody can duplicate exactly what they gave us, it's somewhat small-minded to ignore the fact that other talents are right in front of us, carrying the torch and keeping the organ in the soulful and swinging environments where it sounds best. Akiko Tsuruga is one of those figures.

Tsuruga is probably best known for her decade-long tenure in saxophonist Lou Donaldson's organ group, but her work as a leader shouldn't be discounted. She's no newcomer that department, having released a total of ten albums either stateside or in her native Japan, and this trio date makes perfectly clear why figures like Donaldson, drumming great Jimmy Cobb, and organ guru Dr. Lonnie Smith are in her corner. She's got the goods, and it shows.

So Cute, So Bad was recorded live in front of an appreciative audience at San Pedro's Alvas Showroom. Tsuruga is joined by two of the left coast's jazz elite—drummer Jeff Hamilton and guitarist Graham Dechter—and everything falls right into place. Right from the get-go, this trio sizzles. The title track—a comfortably paced, semi-shuffling blues—brings the grease and the good times. Hamilton's groove is as perfect as ever, Dechter delivers a strong solo showing and a fine melodic reading, and Tsuruga shows us what she's made of. In less than seven minutes she wraps her own personality around our expectations, bringing out signature ideals of her instrument—the gliss, the stab, the long tone, and the briefly cycling motif—that we've come to love when we hear an organist thrown down. And there's more where that came from.

Tsuruga and company continue to cook, cool off, and captivate across the remaining tracks. "The Lady Is A Tramp" is sunny and swinging, Baby Face Willette's "Face To Face" adds some caffeinated boogaloo surf soul to the mix, Slide Hampton's "Frame For The Blues" allows for exploration in mellower environs, "Tanabata" takes everybody on a trip to Japan by way of Brazil, and "Pretty Please" gently and slowly waltzes the band to the end of the line. Within each track there are myriad aspects for the ear to enjoy and latch onto, but you don't need to overthink this one. Tsuruga and company toss things right down the middle and hit the mark every time.

Track Listing: So Cute, So Bad; The Lady Is A Tramp; Face To Face; Frame For The Blues; You Don't Know What Love Is; Peachie; Tanabata; Pretty Please.

Personnel: Akiko Tsuruga: Hammond B-3 organ; Jeff Hamilton: drums; Graham Dechter: guitar.

Title: So Cute, So Bad | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Self Produced

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