Violinist and composer Tomoko Omura has released a record of songs that deliver on a tough challenge: merging the traditional music of her native Japan with the hip grooves of contemporary jazz. The band features a quintet of like-minded peers, with Jeff Miles on guitar, Glenn Zaleski on piano, Pablo Menares on bass, Jay Sawyer on drums, and herself on violin.
Endeavors like this can be somewhat of a gamble as any fusion style in any genre or art form can be. Blending the most refined ingredients doesn’t always lead to jaw-dropping experiences. It’s probably a matter of personal taste or an acquired taste. At the end of the day, you know someone might just tell you in perfect Lebowski fashion “Yeah, well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”
Much to yours truly’s astonishment, Tomoko Omura makes Japanese folklore sound like it’s always been part of the American “jazz tradition” and songbook. This has to do with the quality of the writing and the tasteful arrangements she brings to these unorthodox (to my Western ears) melodies. Make no mistake, nothing on here breaks with the longstanding parameters of the jazz quintet and the music remains grounded in that tradition. “Moonlight In Vermont” is the lone standard cleverly placed at the top of the album. Underpinned by odd-meter polyrhythms, the song takes on a newly engaging quality that sets the tone for the next tracks. All bandmembers get a spot to show off their improvisational talent but, as the title suggests, this feels like the beginning of further explorations ahead.
Zaleski’s musicianship is pure class, understated but stripped down to in-the-moment creativity. He’s blowing over “Revenge Of The Rabbit” like he’d eat that for breakfast, but there is a sense that these songs call for conciseness and restrain. “Three Magic Charms” has a meditative quality, its pretty melody dancing on the slow-burn groove provided by bass and drums. Hearing the violin in that setting is refreshing as its sustained, bowed and plucked notes contrast with the darker rhythms building “under” them. “Return To The Moon” is a case in point. “Konomichi” closes out the set on a tightly interactive note, the musicians seemingly enjoying their trading moments before taking the tune to its epic finale. Spot on.
Track list: Moonlight in Vermont, Three Magic Charms, Revenge Of The Rabbit, Return To The Moon – Intro, Return To The Moon, Konomichi.
Tomoko Omura – Violin
Jeff Miles – Guitar
Glenn Zaleski – Piano
Pablo Menares – Bass
Jay Sawyer – Drums
For more information about Tomoko Omura’s Japanese inspirations and to buy the record, it’s over here:
PS: In a completely different style and vibe, you must check out Eric Revis’ new album Slipknots Through a Looking Glass. This will rock your world.