Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra

Hiroshima: Rising from the Abyss

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Hiroshima: Rising From the Abyss is an extended, three-movement suite for jazz orchestra that is thematically linked to the atomic bomb blast at Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. According to Toshiko Akiyoshi's liner notes, she was inspired to undertake a musical memorial to this most painful episode in Japanese history through the encouragement of a Buddhist priest and jazz fan whose hometown was Hiroshima. Although Akiyoshi had misgivings about the idea, she managed to produce the work in time for a premiere performance held in Hiroshima on August 6, 2001. This recording is live and is taken from the event.

The piece features readings given in Japanese by Ryoko Shigemori and drawn from the "Mother's Diaries" held at the Hiroshima Memorial Museum. The Akiyoshi big band is in full force here, with soloists Lew Tabackin on tenor saxophone, Dave Pietro on alto, Jim Rotondi on trumpet, and George Kawaguchi on drums. All the solos are finely executed, but Tabackin's is the standout; he has some really soulful things to say here. This is one of the most straightforward and conservative of Akiyoshi's big band suites -- the only sections that are "out" occur during the inevitable "explosion" passage (which follows a lengthy drum solo) and toward the end of the movement marked "Futility-Tragedy," where there is a busy engagement of the front-line soloists in a group improvisation. This is obviously a project Akiyoshi undertook with utmost seriousness, as relatively little is left to the improvisers and most of it is scored out in Akiyoshi's richest, most sentimental and heartfelt big band idiom.

The suite is flanked by a pair of short pieces: a reflective number entitled "Wishing Peace" and a delightful, but perhaps too brief arrangement of her folk-like melody "Long Yellow Road" that lasts a little less than two minutes. The live recording has its drawbacks -- the applause is at times intrusive, and this reviewer would have preferred a bit more low-end in the overall mix, which is rather bright and a bit too "trebly." Some American listeners with a taste for big band may not get this, but if you have a mature understanding of the way people "in the old country" feel about the bombing of Hiroshima and what it means, you should hear this. Hiroshima: Rising From the Abyss is really very moving and well-done, although you may find yourself only listening to it one time, as it is more an admirable work than one that is out-and-out enjoyable.

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