On this latest trio outing, Junior Mance combines soul-jazz cool with bop-stoked fire; his orchestral approach to the keyboard calls forth deep sonic landscapes rich in texture. Violinist Michi Fuji, despite her chamber-music background, has a looseness of timbre and pitch that gives her sound a Jackie Mac-like astringency-a voice-like effect, heightened by her tendency to reverse her bowing abruptly, avoiding continuous melodic flow in favor of coarse transitions. Bassist Hide Tanaka, meanwhile, is propulsive yet non-obtrusive: His double-stops dance and slither but never pound; his arpeggios are uncluttered; he avoids stepping on others’ solos.
The set list here includes two Mance originals: the church-tinged “Jubilation” and “Harlem Lullaby,” an emotionally complex, sometimes brooding tone poem that evokes spiritual questing, worldly struggle and hard-won sanctuary with equal facility. The trio also brings its imaginative flair to borrowed material ranging from Johnny Mandel’s “Emily” and Duke Pearson’s “Idle Moments” to the Gillespie/Pozo chestnut “Tin Tin Deo” (on which the trio creates an enticing fusion of Latin-tinged gaiety and hothouse exoticism).
Through the years, Mance has cultivated a strong affinity with Japanese jazz artists, at least partly through his involvement with 100 Gold Fingers, a consortium of 10 U.S. pianists who tour Japan every other year. That affinity is on display here, as Mance, Fuji and Tanaka share not just a musical language, but what sounds like a single, unified musical heart.