Dec 4 2015
Roots is the fascinating 2015 recording from violinist Tomoko Omura, who takes well-known Japanese songs, both traditional and those of a more recent vintage, and rearranges them for a modern jazz quintet. With a foundation of sharp melodies carried along by flowing tempos, Omura really digs into the development of each tune, but no matter how complex and expansive things may get, she retains those qualities that made the songs memorable in the first place. It’s a hell of an accomplishment. It’s also a seriously exciting album.
Omura hits her mark right from the first note with “Antagata Dokosa (Where Are You From?).” A children’s song at heart and in practice, Noah Garabedian‘s bass line is the sound of a bouncing ball and Omura’s vocals the song put into play. It’s the ultimate show of the album’s spirit and intent, and the opening is also the launching point for Omura’s violin to take off into flight, her quintet aiding her journey away from the seed of the song with one lively solo after the next. It’s a pattern repeated throughout the album to great success.
There’s the whimsical treatment of “Ge ge ge,” which also honors the manga’s spirit-monsters with some untamed wildness, especially via Will Graefe‘s electric guitar contribution. In a similar vein, renditions of “Kojo No Tsuki” and the National Anthem epitomize the stately formality of the subject matter while also using it to mirror the sense of awe that each inspires. Of the former, pianist Glenn Zaleski‘s swirling piano lines capture the mystery and grandeur of composer Rentarō Taki’s imagery of the Oka Castle. And there’s a nifty mix of mathematical precision and youthful spontaneity in the Okinawan “Tinsagu Nu Hana.” The melody of “Soran-Bushi” is about as addictive as it gets, but it’s the drums of Colin Stranahan, talkative as waves lapping up against a fishing boat that is the conversational undercurrent that carries the song.
There’s an almost epic nature to the exhilarating shifts in tone and tempo. The sense of the dramatic might not be better represented than in the way “Cha Tsu Mi (Green Tea Picking)” goes from peaceful to wild abandon and then slides into the evocative “The Mountain (Lord Mito),” a song with a smoky atmosphere that resonates with the inner strength of a beating heart seeking peace. Whether up-tempo or slowly swaying in place, these are songs that radiate a massive presence.
The recording officially ends with a short reprise of the National Anthem, but the album’s true final statement is “Hometown,” a rendition of Teiichi Okano’s “Furusato.” Though intended as a children’s song, the theme of reminiscing upon a homeland far away, feeling both cheerfully nostalgic and painfully homesick are captured by the quintet with a striking clarity. It’s an outstanding track on an album that is comprised of nothing but.
One of the best things to come out all year. It was my Pick of the Week when it first hit the shelves back in January… and it remains one of the best things on that shelf as the year comes to a close.
Your album personnel: Tomoko Omura (violin, voice), Will Graefe (guitar), Glenn Zaleski (piano, keyboards), Noah Garabedian (double bass) and Colin Stranahan (drums).
Released by Inner Circle Music.
Listen to more of the album at the artist’s Bandcamp page.
Jazz from NYC.