Toshiko Akiyoshi / Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin Big Band

Kogun

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As a writer known for her incorporation of traditional Japanese music into idiomatic big band writing, it is only on the title track of this 1974 recording that this propensity is exhibited. The rest of the album is dedicated to more traditional big band approaches, but, in the hands of Toshiko Akiyoshi, "traditional" techniques always manage to sound fresh. Few of the many twists and turns on display in the five songs off of Kogun fail either to surprise or to work. Although straight-ahead cookers such as "Elegy" (which features a wicked piano solo by the leader) succeed marvelously, it is when Akiyoshi turns to more unconventional writing techniques, such as the spoken word fragments that are interspersed throughout the extraordinary "Memory" or the endlessly shifting form and mood of "Kogun," that her muse is most clearly on display. This is big band as orchestra, and it is evocative in a way that most other big band records simply are not. Although Akiyoshi's contributions are impossible to downplay, the reason for this record's sublimity must also rest in the orchestra itself, co-led by tenor (and hubby) Lew Tabackin. From trumpeter Bobby Shew to alto saxophonist Dick Spencer, the winds are uniformly excellent, and the rhythm section of Gene Cherico and Peter Donald cook without being heavy-handed. Kogun easily displays why Akiyoshi is such a treasure. It's a record that is simultaneously driving, romantic, and experimental, seductive in its implications and undeniable in its swing. A difficult combination, to be sure, but one for which Akiyoshi clearly has the winning formula.

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