Yoshio Otomo

Moon Ray

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This CD reissue of a 1977 date by Yoshio Otomo's fine quartet was his second as a leader where he had picked his band from among Japan's finest players. Otomo is an alto player from the Jackie McLean school of tone and the Art Pepper institute for improvisation. In other words, his tone has an edge, but he always phrases and improvises melodically. With Tsuyoshi Yamamoto leading the rhythm section, the other two members, Tamiko Kawabata on bass and Arihide Kurata on drums, had to be ever watchful and vigilant that these proceedings didn't escape them altogether. The set opens with the hard blues wing of the title cut by Artie Shaw. Otomo pushes his alto in the front line toward the lower register, establishing the feeling from the outset before going back up top for his solo. Yamamoto comps forcefully, rhythmically changing the modal interval from inside. It works, and swings as it echoes the blues of jazz yesteryear, though the emotion and sophistication of the players is unquestionable. The other tunes here, Johnny Mandel and Johnny Mercer's "Emily," Oliver Nelson's "Shufflin'," and Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin's "If I Should Lose You" are all played with grace and sensitivity. There isn't any over-teching anything -- a real temptation by Japanese jazzers in the '70s to sound authentic. This is as authentic as anything because the feeling is in the music. That comes through loud and clear on the only original of the set, "Love Comes Quietly," where Archie Shepp's dictum that you can hear every minute of every hour of every day a cat puts into his horn on a ballad: All men are fine soloists, and the melody itself is gorgeous, worthy of the rest of the company it keeps here. A great obscure reissue, and a fine introduction to Japanese jazz.

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