Secret Places takes Sumi Tonooka from her Philadelphia home to Boston, Detroit (where she was mentored by Marcus Belgrave), and back to Philly, with forays into New York City. Her piano playing is influenced by Bud Powell, forged by Lennie Tristano, and molded by her teacher Mary Lou Williams, and stylistically shows a hand loaded with Hank Jones' elegance and McCoy Tyner's deftness. Her touch may be light overall, but it is decisive. Of the nine selections, six are originals, and four are solos. The five trio cuts are with the great team of bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Lewis Nash. Reid plays unison, complementary or juxtaposed lines as only the quintessential listener can, while Nash's drumming is picture-perfect and focused. On her originals, endless streams of ideas tumble out, reflecting her experience and preferred pianists. Occasionally one can hear that over the top inspiration that comes from another Academy of Belgrave graduate, Geri Allen. The first two modern mainstream cuts, "Susumu" and the title track, the funky "Beginning Again," and the beautifully soulful "Never Again" are the best examples of Tonooka's originality in a trio format. She's searching for those secret places where new notes are hiding, even though we've been told they don't exist anymore. Exhibit A (of many on this CD) is a modal reinvention of Powell's "Tempis Fugit," where she shines in a custom-built comfort zone of her own, attempting to make a great piece of jewelry out of an already well-polished gemstone (nice setting, too). Tonooka can play, not just run scales or read notes. She's a true improviser who has learned from the best and is making some strikingly original music.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos