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Masaru Imada Trio + 1: Planets (BBE)

Review of a 1977 recording by the Japanese pianist, now belatedly available to the general public

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Cover of Masaru Imada Trio +1 album Planets
Cover of Masaru Imada Trio +1 album Planets

Pianist Masaru Imada is still alive at 90 and living, I presume, somewhere in the Tokyo he’s called home for most of those 90 years. I’m wondering if he still works. I also wonder what he makes of this work from 1977, released originally on private press but brought, however belatedly, to the world at large this fall. Featuring drummer Tetsujiro Obara, bassist Kunimitsu Inaba, and—this deck’s resident joker—percussionist Yuji Imamura, Planets starts out close to, if not home, at least safety, with some requisite modal charts and easy-feeling swing. Stick with the three plus one, though, and listen to them fly further out when they try.

Inaba’s walking bass waxes weirder and then more like a hop-skip. The others fall away, leaving him to convey the idea of slow travel—through water or space, no matter—through rolling notes and double stops until he’s playing the least he can possibly play and keep you convinced the speakers aren’t out. Obara steps to the fore, his rolls a little too soft for military might but ideal for this idea of steady-on. “A Marionette,” not quite as herky-jerky as the title might suggest, uses sparse chords and sustain for a portrait of a puppet on its strings, moved to motion, and swaths of elegance.

“Sea’s Pasture,” which I’m betting took up most of the original Side 2, gives us jazz as impressionistic marine life—much less surging seas and shocking sharks than a contemplative look at an ecosystem, festooned in Imamura’s filigree. The much-shorter alternate take appended at the end holds interest by contrast but consists mostly of condensed-sounding concepts already offered in full. Kudos to Imamura again, though, for skillful and resonant deployment of what sounds like a tabla. 

Learn more about Planets on Amazon

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