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August 2008

Sumi Tonooka Trio
Long Ago Today
ARC - Artists Recording Collective

Pianist Sumi Tonooka has now made five albums under her own name since 1986 (all with Rufus Reid on bass), but has remained below the jazz radar. It isn’t fair. Tonooka can play. Her assets are speed, power, and harmonic and rhythmic ingenuity. The strongest tracks here are the headlong hard stuff, like “Be the Dance” and “The Clinging.” Most of them are in odd meters like 6/8, which does not inhibit Tonooka from building dense designs as she rockets them forward. “Quantum Question” reveals that, at her best, she can knock you down and run you over. Over a cycling left-hand ritual, her right hand wildly swirls and spills while drummer Bob Braye erupts in tantrums and Reid hammers insidious ostinatos. The only standard, “All of You,” works too, intriguingly distorted by Tonooka’s personal harmonies and loose phrasing.

She is less effective on ballads. The title track, “Dreaming of Tibet” and “Nami’s Song” are attempts to turn internal emotion into external lyricism. It is the most fragile and mysterious of artistic endeavors, and requires a gift of melodicism that Tonooka lacks. These pieces are pleasant but not deeply affecting.

Still, she deserves to be on your radar. Sumi Tonooka. Make a note of it.

Originally published in August 2008
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