Miho Hazama: Dancer in Nowhere (Sunnyside)

A review of the third album from the composer

Dancer in Nowhere by Miho Hazama
Cover of Dancer in Nowhere by Miho Hazama

It isn’t a coincidence that the three albums Miho Hazama has recorded with her 13-piece “m_unit,” most recently Dancer in Nowhere, convey a sense of movement that is both tangible and ethereal. Hazama’s compositions are at once strikingly restless and reassuringly lithe. She knows how to conjure impressionistic clouds that blossom into clarity, and create clearings for soloists to make their case before a new juxtaposition reveals itself.

Sometimes these changes have a long arc, as on “Somnambulant,” which opens with wordless vocals from Kavita Shah, a stark simplicity enriched by hovering strings and then horns. You expect the breathy tenor solo from Jason Rigby that eventually ensues, but the filigreed electric guitar solo from guest Lionel Loueke comes out of nowhere. By contrast the next track, “Il Paradiso del Blues,” is a rapidly-changing, reed-driven festival of horns, Latin spice with a pinch of Count Basie, highlighted by the birdlike modulations of alto Steve Wilson, followed closely by drummer Jake Goldbas and eventually yielding to a baritone saxophone solo from Andrew Gutauskas. The muscular “The Cyclic Number” leads with a Mingus-like bass solo from Sam Anning, features the vibes of James Shipp and stops short for an extended viola break from Atsuki Yoshida.

The least successful numbers are the final two. After covering Lady Gaga and then A Perfect Circle on the first two m_unit albums, Hazama’s lone non-original this time is John Williams’ “Olympic Fanfare and Theme,” a bad match from the opening handclaps. The closing title song is designed as a vehicle for guest Nate Wood on drums, but feels claustrophobically busy, without enough of Hazama’s trademark pivots in mood.

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