Wednesday, January 9, 2013

In review--Bumble Bees and Dragonflies

Jazz/Big Band
Asuka Kakitani Jazz Orchestra
Nineteen-Eight Records

My first musical glimpse of Japanese orchestra leader/big band composer Asuka Kakitani’s Bloom showed promise.  I admire a woman with musical ambition who leads men with horns through complex musical architecture.  However, I have had to listen to the recording in segments since I’ve not been able to sit through its entirety in one sitting.  The problem for me is not the soft wall of horns which includes a dozen or so flugelhorns, trombones, trumpet and saxophones and woodwinds thrown into the mix, but the bop saxophone solos that often ride over slightly dissonant passages, such as one-third of the way through Dragonfly’s Glasses or on the titular track.  However, I enjoy the mercurial opening of that song.  And the horn solo in Dance One with the orchestra playing lightly in the background sounds marvelous.

However, Islands in the Stream, peppered by trumpets and lots of cymbals stands out as the beauty of the eight tracks.  With a Miles Davis-like solo (played by Matt Holman), coming in at the halfway point, this track shows off Kakitani’s ear for orchestral tones and timbres.  In fact, the composer possesses a good ear for horn arrangement which she punctuates with the occasional woodwind instrument, piano, rhodes piano, drums, bass, guitar and voice on the delightful third track, Bumblebee Garden, compliments of Sara Serpa.  This song stands out as lighter in tone and more lyrical, as well as, whimsical in contrast with the other tracks.

Overall, I wonder if Kakitani is influenced by American jazz of the late 1970s (as well as the be bop era), which often appeared in movie soundtracks or television shows to heighten an audience’s awareness.  The horn washes possess relaxing qualities, but the solos, especially saxophone ones often recall Charlie Parker’s slower bop*, distracts me as a listener.  I will say this, Kakitani has created a palette of American jazz from several periods and she does have intriguing ideas, even to someone like me who still imagines “big band” from the swing era when Duke Ellington reigned and each of his soloists brought a new instrumental feature to the mix.  Now, that’s entertainment.

* Note: I’m not a fan of be bop. I like the concept, but bop irritates my nerves with its frenzied solos and hyped-up adrenaline.

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