In November of 2012, four musicians got together to form a jazz quartet. They called themselves “Beautiful Round.” By April 1, 2013, they were in Avatar Studios and recording their first album. The compositions were all from the pen and guitar of Akira Ishiguro--born in Japan, raised in Wisconsin and now living in New York City.
The recording sessions lasting for only two days and the results are undeniably impressive. With bandmates William Tage on piano, Pablo Menares on bass and Rodrigo Recabarren on drums, “Aki” Ishiguro has put together a quartet of incredible talent, skill and maturity.
The album begins with a nice introduction in the piece “Vitou.” The tight collaboration between Ishiguro and Tatge is clear from the start. The piano, bass and drums opening is joined by the cool guitar. The hot piano work is well-supported by the in-the-pocket rhythm section of Menares and Recabarren. I was hooked from the start.
That did not relent even a little with the second track “Masashimaru.” The splendid companionship of piano and guitar is evident again and the lock-step advance of the quartet is intriguing. The divergent leads of the guitar and piano, however, are spellbinding. It is small wonder that Beautiful Round enjoys a monthly residency at Manhattan’s 55 Bar.
Akira Ishiguro has played with Jim Zorn, Christian McBride and Will Vinson but the present work with Tatge, Menares and Recabarren eclipses all of that. Tatge has fronted his own trio before but it is this assembly of four that has struck something special.
They are evocative and never more so than in “Lonely Note.” The aching and isolated feeling that is generated is also the backdrop for the slow climb to beauty. The four musicians contribute striking pieces of independent threads until a tapestry begins to take shape. Ishiguro’s virtuosity shows why he was awarded the Public’s Choice Award” at the 2009 Gibson Guitar Competition during the Montreaux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.
“Intro to Form and Shape” and “Form and Shape” are dual works of extraordinary lyricism with intermittent body blows to keep the listener softened up for the coup de grace. It is astonishing that these guys have been together only for a year. There is such tight cohesion and trust between them. The rhythm section closes the track brilliantly as the whole quartet plays so percussively.
“Dear Spring, With Love” opens with a smooth andante bass line. Recabarren’s brushes help create a film noir feel that is slow and simple (but not simplistic) and allows Ishiguro to explore the space provided by the piano, bass and drums.
This is mature, sophisticated and impressive composing and performance. The quartet makes open room for each other in very generous ways.
That openness is also evident in “Conduit,” the seventh track of the album. The sheer virtuosity of Akira Ishiguro stands forth in this piece as plainly as any other. What also shines so brightly is the comparable virtuosity exhibited by the whole group. The haunting piano work is contrasted with the tight groove of Menares and Recabarren.
The piano again is launched into the spotlight on “Pillar.” William Tatge shows himself worthy of every watt of that spotlight. Ishiguro jumps back in with his own Wes Montgomery licks and the result is one of the best bop pieces heard this year.
These guys bring it!
They bring it again in “Variant,” a piece that put me in mind of Pat Metheny Group’s “Watercolors” album. That was probably my favorite of Metheny’s albums. It was the first collaboration between Metheny and Lyle Mays and that fruitful relationship has lasted for decades. I mention that because it is my fervent hope that Ishiguro and Tatge will have a similarly long-running relationship.
“Brooklyn Surrender” is the final track on this fantastic album. The strident opening is followed by a lyrical excursion from Tatge’s piano work. This is classic Jazz.
It is an appropriate closing for the album, indeed. You immediately reach for the “Repeat All” button. It is colorful and is punctuated by a military swing. It is one of the coolest compositions on the album and it is performed so well.
Akira Ishiguro brilliantly but briefly displayed his compositional talents and his guitar-craft on the 2012 CD “Split Cycle” by the band of the same name. Now he exhibits those talents as the leader of a musically dashing collection of skilled and gifted musicians.
“Beautiful Round” is a band well-educated in Post-Bop Jazz. They are comfortable in avant-garde moods, impressionistic stylings and straight-ahead quartet unity. This, their first album together, is surely the shape of things to come.
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