Takaaki – New Kid In Town – Albany Records 

From classical training to jazz playing with impressive results!

Takaaki – New Kid In Town – Albany Records 1689 59:06****

( Takaaki Otomo – piano; Noriko Ueda – bass; Jared Schonig – drums)

It is an uncommon occurrence when a classically trained pianist makes the transition to a jazz player with such impressive results. However such is the case with Takaaki and his trio for the release on Albany Records appropriately entitled New Kid In Town.

Backed by bassist Noriko Ueda ( who is also the bassist with the Diva Jazz Orchestra) and drummer Jared Schonig, the trio runs through a set list of original compositions plus some jazz associated numbers to produce a disciplined exhibition of robust harmonies. The title track “New Kid In Town” is by composer Bernard Hoffer, who is also the producer of this release, and he also takes credit for discovering Takaaki playing at an unprepossessing  New York restaurant. Filled with pleasing notes and an interesting propulsive framework, the composition provides the setting for  the players to show they are a nimble and self-assured trio.

John Lewis’ “Django” was an integral part of the Modern Jazz Quartet’s repetoire. The trio gives a sympathetic reading to the number with an in the pocket groove that works really well. Bassist Ueda picks up some of the same bass notes that Percy Heath played in the Quartet’e version of the number. In 1947, Neil Hefti wrote a Cuban-inspired number called “Repetition” which was recorded by Hefti with a big band plus strings  featuring  altoist Charlie Parker  on a brief but sparkling solo. It has been neglected on record for many years, but Takaaki’s rendition sparkles with a freshness and joyful improvisational style, backed by Schonig’s Latin beat.

Jule Styne and Bob Merrill composed “People” for the 1964 Broadway musical Funny Girl  for Barbra Streisand who introduced and popularized the song. While there are somewhat mawkish lyrics, it nevertheless has an  eminently hummable melody. Takaaki’s version swings along with a breezy beat as he runs over the keyboard with single-note ideas, as bassist Ueda’s playing is dependable and determined.

While there are no dud tracks, a couple of others in particular are worth mentioning. Firstly, “In Your Own Sweet Way”  was written by Dave Brubeck for his wife Iola. Given Brubeck’s classical musical education and studying under Darius Milhaud, it not surprising that the structure of the song is a thirty-two bar ballad with an eight bar interval between choruses. Takaaki has forsaken the ballad format for a more upbeat version, and has eliminated the eight bar interval. This has not detracted from the bone structure of the number, with Takaaki playing with flourish, and engaging in several spirited breaks with drummer Schonig.

Finally,  the trio offers the Thad Jones lovely ballad “To You”. While Takaaki cannot hope to duplicate the harmonically intricate big band arrangement of this number, the pianist has chosen to use his own chording to convey the richness of the composition. He has managed to get to the interior of the harmonies to build the tension, with empathetic support from Ueda and Schonig.

We can expect to hear more good things from Takaaki in the time ahead.

TrackList: Evening Glow; New Kid In Town; Django; LullWater; Repetition; People; Mars; Grandma’s Song; In Your Own Sweet Way; To You; Rush Hour; Venus

—Pierre Giroux

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