Senri Oe is apparently a Japanese film and pop star who “turned his back on money and fame” to move to NYC and fulfill a lifelong dream of being a jazz pianist. Great for him, some people have all the luck. As a pop musician he has 45 hit singles and “nearly 20” albums, over half qualifying as gold in Japan. But why not move to NYC, enroll in the New School, and start your own label to release your album? And you could have fooled me, this album sounds like the work of musician seasoned in cigar smoke and scotch over years in jazz basements and murphy-beds. It is one of the best jazz albums I’ve heard to come since they boom-days of the 50’s and 60’s, but I with that statement I am revealing just how much of a phony I am, familiar with just a handful of musicians to come after Monk, Coltrane, Mingus and Dolphy. The rest of the quintet consists of drums, bass, trumpet and trombone all providing a wealth of interesting ideas. Listen to the interaction between the drums and bass during the bass solo in Highline Bash (Track 6), the brushwork in the ballad Camp Sweetheart (Track 2), the trombone solo in the jazz-bossa Sandwish (Track 7). Returning to the topic of Senri the person, I don’t think he “turned his back” on money and fame, I’m pretty sure he got to keep all that, but he did follow a long desired dream, so the moral is don’t let the dream die, do what you need to survive, but don’t let your dreams die. There’s always time.
Trumpeter Ron Miles is joined by guitarist Bill Frisell and drummer Brian Blade. A two-member rhythm section can be tricky, but Frisell and Blade handle it wonderfully with the guitar splitting time between the bassline and chords and doubling the melody the drums never cover up such a sparse line up, yet keep the comping busy enough to make the trio sound complete. The entire album evokes warm summer breezes in the way only west coast jazz can but never goes stale. The album gets out of the gate with “Bruise,” a pointillistic, angular melody which slowly blossoms into a nine and a half minute work. The next track, “Queen B” is much cooler, Blade’s cymbals sizzle and Frisell makes intriguing harmonic statements as Queen B lounges in the summer heat and continues to languish as Mr. Kevin (track 3) enters, before picking up with the first truly catchy hook of the album about 1’30” in. The setting of the album seems to change to the south with a bluesy track in “There Ain’t No Sweet Man that’s Worth the Salt of My Tears” and a straight-up New Orleans composition in “Just Married,” and continues the old-school feel with a Duke Ellington composition “Doin’ the Voom Voom.” In my favorite track “Rudy-Go-Round,” a 12-bar blues that sounds anything but, everyone loosens up a little bit and bops hard, but seems that the trio is ashamed to be having fun, ending abruptly and awkwardly after 6 minutes.