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New album from Akira Tana:

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    Posted: 12 May 2019 at 5:06pm

Drum maestro AKIRA TANA has performed with many of the top names in the jazz world, such as Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, Zoot Sims, Hubert Laws, Milt Jackson, Jim Hall, and Art Farmer, among many others. He has appeared on over 200 recordings as a sideman and on numerous CDs as a leader, including five seminal CDs he made with his quintet TanaReid, which he co-led with bassist Rufus Reid in the 1990s.
Tana is now releasing AI SAN SAN (LOVE'S RADIANCE), his third with his group, OTONOWA. The group was founded in 2012 to tour and raise funds for the communities devastated by the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in 2011. The earthquake reached a magnitude of 9.1, damaged the nuclear reactors in Fukushima and caused massive flooding throughout the coastal regions of Northern Japan. Over 20,000 people lost their lives, and to this day, most communities in the region have not fully recovered. Otonowa has annually toured the region since 2014.
AI SAN SAN (LOVE'S RADIANCE) pays homage to the victims of the natural disaster by presenting traditional and pop Japanese songs that Tana and Otonowa completely transform into modern American jazz instrumentals. Some of the tunes have been part of Japanese culture for generations, and even the pop tunes would be familiar to a majority of Japanese people. The seamless blending of these disparate art forms is a testament to the cross-cultural mastery of these musicians and to the adaptive and inclusive nature of jazz.
The Otonowa musicians are a unique blend of Americans of Japanese descent. Tana was born and raised in California as was ART HIRAHARA, a versatile pianist and composer presently based in New York City. He has three releases to his credit as a leader. The other core members of Otonawa were either born in Japan or grew up there but now reside in the U.S. MASARU KOGA plays saxes, flute, and shakuhachi (a Japanese bamboo flute). Also a versatile musician with a truly international outlook, Koga was named "Latin Jazz Flautist of the Year" at The Latin Jazz Corner Best of 2010 Awards and has recently released a debut recording as a leader. Bassist NORIYUKI "KEN" OKADA was born in New York City and raised in São Paulo, Brazil and Yokohama, Japan. He learned jazz playing in the Keio University big band as a visiting member from the University of Tokyo, where his band won the Yamano Big Band Contest, the largest national college jazz competition in Japan.
Tana wanted to add some additional Japanese textures to this recording and brought on board SHOKO HIKAGEKENNY ENDO, and TETSUYA TATSUMI. Hikage is a koto (Japanese zither) master. Born and raised in Japan, she currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area. Endo plays percussion and taiko (a type of Japanese drum) on this recording. With a 40-year career as a taiko artist, he's garnered numerous awards and accolades for his ability to blend taiko with rhythms influenced from cultures around the world. Tetsuya Tatsumi is a popular cornet and trumpet player living in Tokyo. Tatsumi joined Otonowa on their 2016 goodwill tour.
Unlike some members of Otonowa, Tana didn't grow up with these songs. "For me, learning this music and creating arrangements with these musicians has really been a journey back to my cultural roots," says Tana. "My bandmates brought the songs to the group, but then we all had input on how we would present them, including what instruments we would use."
On songs like the title track, "Ai San San - Love's Radiance," the use of the shakuhachi flute and taiko drum completely transform this pop tune into an impressionistic jazz piece with mere hints of the original Japanese feeling.
"Habu No Minato," a pop song written in 1923, starts off with a distinctly Asian flavor. The title refers to a small fishing harbor on the small island of Izu-Oshima. This track opens with the sound of the koto and glides into a contemporary solo section featuring the piano and soprano sax.
"Taiyo Ni Hoero," which literally means Bark at the Sun, was a prime-time television detective series in Japan that ran from 1972 to 1986. Okada completely re-harmonizes the melody to match the modal changes that Miles Davis and John Coltrane incorporated into their iconic compositions, "So What" and "Impressions," respectively.
"Tsunagareta Tairyo-bata" is of more contemporary provenance. Written, arranged and performed by Tetsuya Tatsumi, the title means Tethered Fishermen's Flags. Tatsumi took three traditional fishermen folk songs and joined them together in one arrangement.
Tana also contributed one of his songs to this project. He dedicates his composition "Kando" to his friend Chris Iijima, who passed away at a fairly young age. Kando is actually Iijima's middle name, and Tana pays tribute to his friend who was an Asian-American folk singer, educator and legal scholar. He was part of a group called Yellow Pearl, whose music was an important part of the development of Asian-American identity in the early 1970s.
Truly bridging Asian and American cultures, Tana closes the CD with Horace Silver's "Peace." Silver's haunting melody finds new expression on the woody, breathy shakuhachi. The lush synthesis of the Japanese instrumentation on an American jazz standard is a befitting coda for this unique project.
Although other artists have brought Asian sensibilities to American jazz songs, AI SAN SAN (LOVE'S RADIANCE) is unique in transforming Japanese songs into the modern jazz idiom. Akira Tana and Otonowa are the rare artists with the musical chops and cultural sensitivity that can pull off a project with such depth and beauty.
AI SAN SAN (LOVE'S RADIANCE) will be available on CD BABY, Amazon and iTunes on April 30, 2019. Watch the video about Otonowa: https://bit.ly/2XLl6Fs


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