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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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MEG OKURA &
THE PAN ASIAN CHAMBER
JAZZ ENSEMBLE

Music of Ryuichi Sakamoto
(aka Tribute to Ryuichi Sakamoto)

CD Baby 8167164

 

 

  1. Grasshoppers

  2. Riot in Lagos

  3. Tango

  4. Grief

  5. Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence

  6. The End of Asia

  7. You’ve Got To Help Yourself/Ishin Denshin

  8. The Last Emperor Theme

  9. Thousand Knives

  10. Helen’s Intro

  11. Water’s Edge

  12. Perspective

 

Meg Okura – Violin, erhu

Anne Drummond – Flute, alto flute

Helen Sung – Piano

Dezron Douglas – Bass

E. J. Strickland - Drums

 

Ryuichi Sakamoto is, without doubt, a highly eclectic and versatile musician, whether as a pianist or composer. From early days in techno pop and the Yellow Magic Orchestra, he progressed to Asian/Western classical music fusion (the so-called Neo-Geo movement) and writing film scores, the latter with some distinction, winning an Oscar for scoring The Last Emperor. He is also known as a composer and performer of piano music as well as for some interesting collaborations notably, for this reviewer, his tribute to the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim with Brazilian cellist Jaques Morelenbaum and his vocalist wife, Paula.

Meg Okura, Tokyo-born but based in New York, has been a big fan of Sakamoto since childhood and, with the Chamber Jazz group she leads, has recorded this tribute to her hero. She has arranged all the material used on this album, in some cases in ways that depart radically from the originals. As well as an arranger, Meg is a jazz violinist and composer. Formerly a concert pianist, she took up jazz following graduation from the Juilliard School. She has toured with the late Michael Brecker, and with Steve Swallow and Tom Harrell, as well as with her own group. She has recorded with Lee Konitz and Dianne Reeves and played as a soloist and concertmaster for several backing orchestras for jazz stars as well as contributing to film soundtracks. Helen Sung, the group’s pianist, has played with Clark Terry, Terri Lyne Carrington and Wayne Shorter. Dezron Douglas, on bass, has played and toured with Ravi Coltrane, and drummer E.J. Strickland has played with Ravi Coltrane and Cassandra Wilson. The gifted flautist, Anne Drummond, who is a pianist, composer and teacher, co-leads a sextet with Lew Soloff. She completes the ensemble which Meg founded in 2006.

Grasshoppers , an acoustic version of an electronic original, has a repetitive theme, lively flute playing with a short wistful interlude, and forceful jazz piano from Sung. At times Okura sounds ‘Eastern’, at others almost country and western, on the violin. Riot in Lagos evokes something of the chaos suggested by the title, yet simultaneously holds together quality ensemble playing. Tango opens with rhapsodic violin coupled with mellow, gently swinging piano and flute and becomes a lilting and tuneful Latin-tinged melody. Grief, the longest track at ten minutes and nineteen seconds, is, appropriately enough, a sombre, mournful piece with the flute prominent as is a bowed bass, discreet drumming and the use of the erhu, a two-stringed Chinese violin. There is a dissonant passage at one point which merges into an emphatic reprise of the theme by Sung before fading. Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, one of Sakamoto’s best-known film scores, is perhaps the nearest to cocktail-lounge jazz on the disc but it does linger in the mind. There are shades here of the Brodsky Quartet.

The End of Asia is an up-tempo tune with strong collaboration between members of the group. Especially noticeable is Helen Sung’s vigorous piano work. You’ve Got to Help Yourself is a lovely, lilting ballad with Okura and Sung sounding like ‘Stephane Grappelli meets Bill Evans’ with beautiful improvisation from Drummond, strong bass behind the melody and accomplished drumwork. A stand-out track. The Last Emperor Theme is another memorable movie composition which moves from a sonorous beginning into more expansive territory. Again the erhu is featured and Helen Sung contributes expressive keyboard work. A striking and powerful piece. Thousand Knives offers bright interplay between members of the group, nimble-fingered piano and (no other word for it!) groovy violin. All together a cheerful rendition of material taken on a journey far from its origins. Helen’s Intro is a romantic and brief solo effort from Sung. Water’s Edge provides a pleasant tune which allows harmonious teamwork with a deft bass solo from Dezron Douglas. Perspective is described as a remix of the original song. Meg Okura is in her usual sterling form, with Sung as ever, dextrous on the ivories. In addition there is a rippling performance on flute from Drummond and effective support from Strickland and Douglas.

Critics have drawn parallels between The Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble and John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner’s eastern explorations. Purists may want to ask ‘Yes, but is it jazz?’ Those who like crossover or chamber jazz will find no problem in welcoming this release with open arms.

James Poore



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