Akira Tana (The Asian American Jazz Trio): Moon Over the World
Akira Tana's notes lay no claim to this recording as his own. It is a piano trio set, with the Hong Kong pianist Ted Lo on piano and the glorious Rufus Reid on bass. It appeared on a Japanese label under the name of the Asian American Jazz Trio, and this American issue has the help of both Akira's name and his sleevenote. The original name might lead non-buyers to mistake this for one of innumerable trio recordings of musical quality but no great individuality. The last line of W.S. Gilbert's poem that goes on about "pianists in black cravats" is "in point of fact, too many". This, however, is plenty individual stuff, and very accomplished. I read somewhere that this is pop jazz. It's not.
Reading between the lines, Akira Tana seems to be saying that the pianist, now 52-year-old Ted Lo, had played the Asian material presented here in various pop settings -- and was a shade uncertain about its presentation by a standard piano-bass-drums trio.
Telling a tale of well-spotted potential and its realisation, this at least identifies Mr. Lo's lot with that of many jazzmen. They have to -- and can -- play other stuff between serious jazz gigs and between meals. That doesn't do the self-confidence any good, but due encouragement and classy company can render that irrelevant. He is no passenger in this trio, well up to the mark with the splendid Reid, and the ingenious drummer.
His own "Jewel's Eyes" is a nice opener, and the Chinese folk theme which was the basis of the second title includes some subtle pastiche of a kind of stage Oriental music, with a lot of charm. The third title, by composer Iroshi Miyagawa, is quite straightforward, with an intriguing novel sensibility also evidenced on Horace Silver's "Sweet Stuff". Akira's "Skyline" is a reminder of the pianist's talent for the telling phrase.
Rufus Reid/Orlando Murden's "No Place Like the End of the World" isn't very ostensibly Oriental; it brings out, for one thing, the pianist's fondness for gentle lyrical slow playing without failure of tension. Again there's the different sense of timing, and the constant tendency to explore the sonority of this and that harmonic passage, as a sort of cascade. He likes to extend textures by using his left hand as almost a separate voice. Reid has opportunity to manifest his gifts as a bass soloist, and reveal Lo's talents as an accompanist. The notes indicate that recordings exist in other company, and coming as he does from a different stable he might be a recommendation of one of those dates. On Gene Bertoncini's "Sofflee", he shows he knows how to organise an intro, and he fits perfectly into this trio's tendency to play as if it were two against one. In Akira-Reid there's a duo of definite standing, and they have a nice duet on "Sofflee". Yet there are some neat passages with the pianist's left hand doubling sometimes the bass line, sometimes the rhythm the drummer is laying down. It's a nice refreshment of balance.
The Chinese folksong "Condor Man" isn't conspicuously Orientalist; it sounds like a Chinese theme in high-class jazz performance. Jaco Pastorius's "Three Views of a Secret" opens with great tenderness on the pianist's part, and an impression of coaxing an extraordinary delicacy of feeling from the bassist, before a conclusion of genuinely exciting interaction. Miyagawa's "Chinese Fingers" is playful on the verge of affectionate parody, and Lo's arrangement of the folksong "Reflections of Love" pretty well stripped local colour away.
This definitely is the real thing, a very decent production with a subtle but continually striking individuality. If Akira-Reid wanted to bring this pianist out, they succeeded. It's no exaggeration to say that there is no shortage of piano trio recordings, but the very fresh choice of repertoire and the plain demonstration of the pianist's individual qualities establish this as a contender for attention. If you want to buy a birthday present for a serious fan of jazz piano trios, this is a decent unhackneyed choice just sufficiently out of the way of the main current of attention. Reading between the lines of his notes, it's probably also justice to give Akira the prominence of leader, of a very satisfactory collaboration.