Junko Onishi - Musical Moments (2009)

Junko Onishi - Musical Moments (2009)
EAC | FLAC | Tracks (Cue&Log) ~ 398 Mb (incl 5%) | Mp3 (CBR320) ~ 168 Mb (incl 5%) | Scans included
Genre: Post-Bop, Straight-Ahead Jazz | Label: Somethin' Else/Blue Note/EMI Music Japan | # TOCJ-68085 | Time: 01:05:24

Junko Onishi has long been one of the most popular pianists in Tokyo. Her years backing famed jazz masters in the States along with her vibrant attitude to the music have earned her respect and fans. This new release comes nearly a decade after her last one, 1999’s rock groove outing “Fragile.” This recording is entirely different from that one, with several self-penned numbers, three Eric Dolphy tunes and three standards. Recorded in New York, except for a live medley at Tokyo Blue Note, it is a vital new work that finds Onishi’s forceful playing unbridled. The result is much more of her as the accomplished and powerful musician she truly is.

Starting the CD with a Dolphy tune, “Hat and Beard,” the trio moves from the skipping, child-game-like intro to a bursting exploration of open-form jazz that would have pleased Dolphy. The standards, of course, no doubt made the big-label company men happy, but Onishi has a lot to say on the Koehler-Arlen standards spaced evenly through the CD. Her chordal structures are elastic and energetic. She seems to be able to take the lead lines in any direction and make them strong and whole.

Her own compositions, though, sound best. “Back in the Days” gets a fast paced take, with plenty of slapping bass and throbbing drum. Her long, fluid lines never feel forced or hurried, but have exuberance to match her technique. The number is fun and edgy both, a rare combination. Her extended soloing here seems effortlessly vibrant. The same goes for her other original “Bittersweet,” which is taken at a slightly slower tempo. Sharp minor chords break up the chord progression with a kind of musical irony that is very intriguing. Inoue and Jackson add a lot without interrupting the serious statements Onishi wants to make.

The title track, is a real pianists’ piece, with room to move and explore. She obviously wrote this number for herself, a kind of present to herself, and knows just what to do with it. Her solos here drag your ears in delightfully criss-crossing patterns delivered with phrasing and voicing. Her own compositions have the fullest workouts. She is both inside and on top of the chords, finding line after line, and giving Inoue and Jackson plenty of space to do the same. Maybe her next CD will be all her own compositions.

Dolphy’s “G.W.” is the farthest out of the tracks, with everyone playing fast and furiously, stopping and starting and digging in to each successive motion of the song. Her affinity for Dolphy is more than just picking his songs, but draws on the strength and power of expression that he championed. Good jazz often comes down to musical personality. Onishi’s is special. Now, if Onishi could take that onto one CD a year, rather than one a decade, her many admirers would be all the more satisfied.

I think that if presented with a list of great writers that included Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Steinbeck, and Phillip Roth, most people would know which one I should have left out. I want to stress that absolutely nobody should be left out of the following list (obviously incomplete): Art Tatum, McCoy Tyner, John Hicks, Junko Onishi.

I have both of Onishi's early trio recordings from live performances at the Village Vanguard, and they are amazing. Her extended solos there are things of beauty, wit, grace, and stupefying technique, and the only problem is my feeling at the end of any one of them that I wish it hadn't ended. The same is true of her 2009 release Musical Moments. Every single one of the tracks is so good that I wish none of them had to stop.

I am moved to be more specific. Except for the bonus track (more of this below), Musical Moments is a studio trio recording. Three of the tunes are Onishi originals. According to the liner notes, "Back in the Days" is supposed to evoke the sound of the 80's and 90's. I wouldn't know, but her playing is fast and exciting. "Bittersweet" is a lovely ballad with a melody line that will stay with anyone who listens to it. The title track "Musical Moments" is a full eight minutes of mid-tempo, inspired, variegated Onishi piano. I'd have to be a philosopher to say why this piece is beautiful, but you know beauty when you see or hear it.

The three piano trio arrangements of Eric Dolphy tunes show how Onishi can reach anywhere for her music. Dolphy for me was an acquired taste. I have grown to like much of what he did, but not everything. In particular, I do not like his bass clarinet on "Hat and Beard" on his album Out to Lunch. To my non-musician's ears, his miscellaneous squeaks and squawks do a disservice to the memory of Monk. Perhaps because Onishi, like Monk, is a pianist, her version of "Hat and Beard" is by contrast nothing short of brilliant, a well-done, interesting, intricate but pretty piece. It is not "out to lunch," but stays within the boundaries of really good, creative jazz, which for me shows what it means for an artist to be great. Unlike Onishi's music, I don't wish my review to go on forever, so I'll say only that I like her other two arrangements of Dolphy tunes also, "Something sweet, something tender," and "G.W."

The studio part of the album rounds out with three solo piano arrangements, "I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues," and "Ill Wind", both Harold Arlen tunes, and Jerome Kerns' "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." The first two show again that Onishi can play wonderfully in any style. The last is a bit of a joke (liner notes), a reminder to one of her drummers (who doesn't play on this album) that she doesn't like his smoking.

Then comes the ice cream (the bonus track). It's a full 16 minutes from a 2008 live trio performance at Tokyo's Blue Note. In the first 10 minutes of it, Onishi plays "So Long Eric" (she obviously digs Dolphy and Mingus). And does she play! At 4 minutes in, either the bassist or the drummer, apparently sensing that she is about to blast off, shouts for her to "go ahead". She does just that. Wow! And it's all music, no grand-standing, no chaos. Well, then there are the vocal acknowledgments (know Japanese, anyone?), another few minutes of pretty piano, and it's over. I wish it could have gone on.

Review by Gerald S. Manning, Amazon.com


01. Hat and Beard (05:29)
02. I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues (03:39)
03. Back in the Days (07:21)
04. Bittersweet (06:17)
05. Ill Wind (05:34)
06. Musical Moments (08:11)
07. Something Sweet, Something Tender (04:37)
08. G.W. (04:36)
09. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (03:15)
10. So Long Eric/Mood Indigo/Do Nothin' Till Your Hear from Me (16:19)

Exact Audio Copy V1.0 beta 3 from 29. August 2011

EAC extraction logfile from 17. November 2014, 21:08

Junko Onishi / Musical Moments

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Track 7

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Track 10

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---- CUETools DB Plugin V2.1.3

[CTDB TOCID: WhLWf7LbTqH7f26HY.r4I3rmqmw-] found, Submit result: WhLWf7LbTqH7f26HY.r4I3rmqmw- has been confirmed
[d2201411] (10/11) Accurately ripped
[3f520ce4] (01/11) No match

==== Log checksum 7B6CCDC85E32CC0C7A164DC63D2512E38D6AC15A66BD355049EF77B8354E09CE ====

foobar2000 1.3.8 / Dynamic Range Meter 1.1.1
log date: 2015-11-26 15:02:32

Analyzed: Junko Onishi / Musical Moments

DR Peak RMS Duration Track
DR10 -0.01 dB -13.04 dB 5:30 01-Hat and Beard
DR13 -1.00 dB -16.75 dB 3:40 02-I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues
DR10 -0.01 dB -12.38 dB 7:21 03-Back in the Days
DR12 -0.38 dB -15.31 dB 6:18 04-Bittersweet
DR13 -1.34 dB -17.61 dB 5:34 05-Ill Wind
DR11 -0.01 dB -15.30 dB 8:11 06-Musical Moments
DR14 -0.39 dB -19.38 dB 4:37 07-Something Sweet, Something Tender
DR11 -0.01 dB -13.20 dB 4:37 08-G.W.
DR14 -1.50 dB -18.93 dB 3:16 09-Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
DR11 -0.01 dB -13.88 dB 16:20 10-So Long Eric/Mood Indigo/Do Nothin' Till Your Hear from Me

Number of tracks: 10
Official DR value: DR12

Samplerate: 44100 Hz
Channels: 2
Bits per sample: 16
Bitrate: 866 kbps
Codec: FLAC

All thanks to original releaser - Iegou