Erena Terakubo with Legends – New York Attitude – King Records Ltd FQ-CD-1831, 57:00 ***½:
(Erena Terakubu, alto saxophone; Kenny Barron, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Lee Pearson, drums; Dominick Farinacci, trumpet & flugelhorn )
First things first: Both Kenny Barron and Ron Carter are in superlative form on this disc. Their performances match anything they’ve done this decade. I’d not heard of Lee Pearson before, but he definitely emerges as a first call drummer. Dominick Farinacci provides a very nice change of pace for the three tracks on which he appears.
But this is a review of the sophomore release under Japanese alto sax player Erena Teraku’s name (and the first to be released in the USA). I’ve instituted a policy for twenty-year-old saxophone players as follows: “I ain’t gonna give no four or five star review to no 20 year old sax player – period”. Too often, very young jazz players release marvelous debut and second discs, only to stagnate – perhaps from overpraise or the dreaded idea to widen their audience by marginalizing their talent in hopes of greater sales.
The actual program with two originals is superbly played by all. The rhythm section instruments are very well-captured in the recording. However, I listened to this disc on four separate occasions. Each time I found myself reaching for the remote to lower my usual volume on the first three tracks. I would love to be privy to the recording sessions, because I suspect Terakubu was either too closely miked or mixed too far forward in an attempt to showcase her dexterity, speed and command. She almost sounds strident at times. I know that questioning Japanese engineering values sounds like heresy, but I felt the same each time. Only beginning with track four does this feeling finally ease. Showcasing one’s unquestioned abilities in this fashion can actually be a disservice.
The band does fire out of the gate with the title track. Composer Kenny Barron provides a masterful initial solo, then Terakubo shows off her immense chops while I’m lowering the volume. On the second track she reveals an Art Pepper influence at a mid tempo pace while Carter propels, Barron gives up a lovely solo, and Pearson impresses. My peeve about the stridency of Terakubo’s sound interferes with track three, a nice performance of “Star Eyes”. I actually preferred just the trio on this number.
Finally, on track four I can relax and luxuriate in the sound as Farinacci joins for some unison playing before a (much more) pleasant sax solo and a solo by Farinacci well complemented by all. IMO, Terakubo really shows her strengths in a pleasing tone on track five. It’s her own slow and mellow composition entitled “That’s The Truth”. The brushes, light cymbals, piano and bass are really lovely as the altoist again reminds one of Mr. Pepper at his best.
Track six is a fine samba with excellent drumming involving a huge sound. Carter submits a marvelous solo here. Terkakubo again demonstrates awesome speed and command. The band’s take in Bobby Simmons’ “This Here” is very fine with superlative sax, Farinacci’s best solo on trumpet and a top rate Barron solo.
Track eight represents Terakubu’s second composition and is very solid with a more pleasing sax tone. The following Sam Jones-penned “Del Sasser” is exhilarating, featuring unison sax/horn, a horn solo followed by sax solo and Pearson’s first real solo space. Great stuff! The final tune is an arrangement of “Body And Soul”. The first 1:52 is just bass and saxophone. And Terakubo’s playing is captured wonderfully – just gorgeous sonics. Gentle piano and sensitive brushwork join in to close the album out.
If it weren’t for my newly instituted policy, I’d have rated this one **** (and Carter’s and Barron’s contributions ****1/2). But policies are meant to be adhered to. I do question and would be fascinated to learn about the engineering decisions regarding the miking and mixing of the saxophone for tracks 1-3. Is it really possible that the producer wanted to show the young prodigy off and the strategy backfired? Anyone wanting to hear a supremely gifted young talent playing with masters can decide for themselves.
TrackList: New York Attitude, One For You, Star Eyes, Oriental Folksong, That’s The Truth, Invitation, This Here, Fascination, Del Sasser, Body And Soul.
—Birney K. Brown
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