Long Ago Today

Sumi Tonooka

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Long Ago Today Review

by Michael G. Nastos

It's hard to believe, but this is only the fifth recording as a leader for the very talented jazz pianist/composer Sumi Tonooka. The title Long Ago Today is significant in that it pays tribute to both of her parents who recently passed away, and the drummer on the date, Bob Braye, who died shortly after these sessions were recorded. It is also an appreciation for bassist Rufus Reid, Tonooka's longtime friend, jazz ally, mentor, and bandmate. With the two in support of her musically and spiritually, the result is a wonderful modern jazz program of originals that suggest influences and good memories instead of melancholy, while attempting to raise the bar on new concepts and theories in the tried and true piano-bass-drums format. Fond of the two-fisted modal approach of McCoy Tyner, Tonooka executes it in grand fashion on the quick waltz "Be the Dance" changing keys and repeating melody lines while intensifying the music from within. Tonooka's left hand on the lower octave keys meshes with Reid's bass quite often for an arresting effect, undeniable during the spirited "Renewal" which showcases the precision of Braye. "The Clinging" also uses the piano-bass tandem technique, creating a sonic image that sets Tonooka's right hand flying. As Tonooka has been inspired by Kenny Barron for a number of years, his attention to detail and bright construct with darker undertones shows up on the inquisitive "Just for Now," and to a lesser extent, on the innocent, shy tones during the ballad "Nami's Song." As part of a multicultural family growing up, Tonooka is naturally inclined to toss in something ethnic as on the bouncy, daring, dancing, kinetic 7/8 rhythm of "Moroccan Daze" or the slow, languid modal beauty "Dreaming of Tibet." The lone standard "All of You" has always been a popular vehicle for reinterpretation. Here Reid's witty punctuations lift and push the ideas of Tonooka ever forward. Her best to date, and a highly recommended recording, it seems Tonooka is still tapping potential while refining her search techniques on this very satisfying and enjoyable effort.

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