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Tomo : I’ll Always Know

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Reed Kotler is a very prolific West Coast composer who’s in an enviable position. Wanting to hear his tunes played, he created a record label for various group projects to perform his work. He even gave the quintet Tomo its name (“friends” in Japanese), an assemblage of some of Southern California’s top musicians who frequently work together. This is Tomo’s second Torii CD of Kotler’s compositions, which are very melodic, harmonically uncomplicated and highly enjoyable.

Pianist Bill Cunliffe arranged the 12 well-crafted pieces, polishing them up and fleshing them out as he and the band felt necessary. A past winner of the Thelonious Monk International Piano Competition and a two-time Grammy nominee, Cunliffe also contributes his sparkling piano stylings to the CD. Bob Sheppard, a former member of Chick Corea’s Origin band, is outstanding on tenor, soprano, clarinet and flute. On “I’ll Always Know” he sounds a bit like Ernie Watts, and on “Oh Yeah,” which is reminiscent of one of those funky old Blue Note recordings like “The Sidewinder,” he shrieks and swoops in much the manner of Michael Brecker. His excellent clarinet work on the Latin ballad “Passion” shows his command of that difficult instrument. Guitarist Larry Koonse displays great versatility and a rich tone, and excels acoustically on “Passion.” Bassist Darek Oles contributes several proficient solos, and drummer Mark Ferber offers strong and sensitive support.

Two tunes stand out for their clever reworkings of classics-“Beautiful Evening” for its subtle variations on Monk’s “Ruby, My Dear,” and “One for the Count” for its homage to “Shiny Stockings.” Just one complaint: The many fine solos on this session are much too concise, seeming to end just when they are taking off into creative flight.