Thursday, July 5, 2012
Piano Solo X 3
12 tracks spread over 81 minutes and the pianist covers a lot of musical territory (1st CD is standards, the 2nd is all originals, save the closing track.) She pays tribute to her mentors and influences on pieces such as the "Mary Lou Williams Medley" (Ms. Tonooka displays a wicked left hand during the "Waltz Boogie" section of the performance), Thelonious Monk's "Evidence" (quite a playful take, with several tempo changes) and her original "Mingus Mood" (a dark ballad with a strong blues feel.) On my first several times through the CD, I could hear the influence of Charles Mingus in Ms. Tonooka's take on Duke Ellington's "Heaven" (from "The Sacred Concerts") but, for the most part, she transcends her influences. The pianist is supremely melodic yet does not shy away from darker colors in her harmonic choices. "Phantom Carousel", an original that opens the second set, displays storm clouds in the chords but has a melody line that often rises high above the dusky foundation. There's a bit of Abdullah Ibrahim (one of her acknowledged influences) in the dancing left hand work of "Moroccan Daze"; one is also struck by the insistent rhythmic drive of the original work. The program closes with a delightful jaunt through Eubie Blake's "I'm Confessin'" and, if this playful performance doesn't tickle your fancy, don't know what will.
Playful, melodic, intelligent, emotionally rich (all of the above), "Now" sounds great with the windows open, the sounds of the birds in the morning competing for your attention. Perhaps, later in the evening, sitting on the porch watching the fireflies illumine the back yard. Sumi Tonooka picked a very good night for her first solo endeavor - methinks she has many "very good nights." For more information, go to sumitonooka.com.
What is different with the new recording is that the program consists entirely of ballads. The good doctor also produced and engineered the sessions plus worked on the mixing and mastering. The material consists of a medley of 2 pieces by Antonio Carlos Jobim, 2 originals and 7 standards. Zeitlin is masterful as he handles oft-recorded pieces such as Bobby Troup's "The Meaning of the Blues" and "Body and Soul", songs some of us have probably heard live and recorded dozens of times. Yet, nothing is what you'd expect other than the pianist will explore avenues others have never thought to use. He never abandons the melody but his harmonies are often surprising while he will slip into (and out of) a rhythmic pattern so naturally it make take you a moment to notice. There is a majesty and wistfulness to Gordon Jenkins' "Last Night When We Were Young" that is breathtaking. Zeitlin first recorded his original "Time Remembers One Time Once" with bassist Charlie Haden in 1983; it's a tender piece with a single-note lines that often resolve in chords, pulling the listener in as the music moves forward. The title track, first recorded in 1984 as a quartet setting with guitarist John Abercrombie, is a gentle work with more glorious harmonies.
"Wherever You Are" is indeed an album of "Midnight Moods" yet this is not dark nor foreboding music. Instead, Denny Zeitlin aims for the heart of the listener by finding the emotional center of each song and creating his own world. Sit with someone you love or by yourself and allow this music to take you away from the humdrum, from the apparent darkness of the everyday world and into a much quieter place. For more information, go to www.dennyzeitlin.com.
"Mumbo Jumbo" moves forward with purpose on a rolling left hand while "Dance" sounds like a work for a modern choreographer, the rapid right hand melody darting about the strident and striding left hand. The title track is much more melodic than percussive; although the version Motian recorded with Jason Moran and Chris Potter for 2010's "Lost In A Dream" opens with a drum solo, Lossing moves right into the melody line and builds the piece from there, building the intensity and speed as the song flies forward.
Throughout "Drum Music", one is acutely aware of how Paul Motian, the composer, communicated his ideas in his originals. Many of these pieces move in unexpected directions yet never seem foreign or forced. What one might think of as simplicity in Motian's drumming or melodic ideas or, for that fact, in his approach towards the standards he played so often is anything but. The drummer/composer enjoyed melody and eschewed "showing off his chops" - Russ Lossing, an excellent technician, plays with purpose and not "for show". He pays homage to Paul Motian by making these pieces his own, making the melodies and rhythmic ideas stand out. As with Denny Zeitlin's "Wherever You Are", "Drum Music" should be listened to at night, in a dimly lit room, with no distractions. There is beauty in the softer passages, power in the more intense moments and heightened sense of creativity at all times. For more information, go to www.russlossing.com.
Russ Lossing celebrates the 7/17/12 release of this CD with a performance Friday July 13 at Cornelia Street Cafe in New York City. Joining him will be bassist Drew Gress and drummer Eric McPherson. For more information, go to corneliastreetcafe.com.