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Miho Hazama: Time River

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It makes sense that composer-arranger Miho Hazama would cite Maria Schneider and her Manhattan School of Music teacher Jim McNeely as the two most influential figures in her creative development. Time River, much like Hazama’s debut, Journey to Journey, from 2013, is an enthralling blend of the percussive, brassy punch common to many of McNeely’s larger ensembles, and the ingenious harmonies and pastoral sweep of the Maria Schneider Orchestra.

The Tokyo-born Hazama wields her 13-piece “m_unit” through a variety of splashy showcases, painting a bustling metropolis in bright, optimistic hues on openers “The Urban Legend” and “Cityscape,” the clatter of vibes and drums trading prominence with horn fanfares and solos. Then it’s an abrupt departure into “Under the Same Moon,” an older Hazama composition she has refashioned as an accordion concerto for special guest Gil Goldstein. While obviously better known as an arranger, Goldstein’s painstaking magnificence on the squeezebox is memorable enough to be Grammy bait come awards season. “Alternate Universe, Was That Real?” is another change of pace, a woozy swarm-drone of strings and brittle beats, like a tone poem that’s been slipped a mickey. Hazama then ditches the five horns, bass and vibes while taking over the piano chair for two string-dominated sextet numbers, including “Fugue,” which rouses into rock territory. The second special guest, saxophonist Joshua Redman, puts the 10-minute title track on full blast down the stretch, but before then it is the disc’s most Schneider-like opus, with distinct, gorgeous sections that erupt and converge rather than collide.

The collection concludes with “Magdalena,” originally by the alternative-metal band A Perfect Circle (a side project for Tool leader Maynard James Keenan), here turbo-charged by Andrew Gutauskas on bari sax and bass clarinet and by Hazama’s pulsating arrangement. Like the Lady Gaga cover on Journey to Journey, it’s a carefree palette-cleanser, serving here as an ideal encore. Just two albums into her career, it may soon be time to start associating Hazama with Darcy James Argue and Ryan Truesdell among the vanguard of big-band leaders.

Originally Published