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Long Ago Today by Sumi Tonooka Trio

Philadelphia-born and raised pianist and composer Sumi Tonooka ended a decade-long hiatus from recording with the release of her 5th recording as a leader, Long Ago Today. Ably assisted by her long-time musical associates, the world-renowned bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Bob Braye, Tonooka's lively, intricate jazz compositions and improvisations show uncommon warmth and depth. A protégé of Kenny Barron, another great Philly-born pianist, Tonooka's dynamic playing consistently sidesteps clichés and stock phrases. This imparts a probing, searching, somewhat intellectual feeling to her playing that reminds me a bit of some of her contemporaries and predecessors, such as JoAnne Brackeen, Mal Waldron, and Steve Kuhn.

The CD opens with 'Be The Dance,' a triumphant-sounding waltz with airy, rich harmonies which sounds like something from one of JoAnne Brackeen's TappanZee recordings. Tonooka's solo here is both tough and gentle, inspiring some appropriately splashy fills from Braye. I really enjoyed 'The Clinging,' a hard-swinging piece that starts off with Braye's crackling drums and leads into a twisting, harmonized melody stated in unison by Tonooka and Reid. Tonooka's solo here belies an effortless mastery of the keyboard, and an endless flow of interesting and profound musical ideas. 'Quantum Question' is a darker, minor-keyed theme that darts Monk-like across the keyboard - the ensuing improvisational sections show Tonooka and her trio at their loosest and most conversational, as the tune breaks down into an almost free-form setting punctuated by Tonooka's episodic power chords. 'Moroccan Daze' shows the trio's adeptness at handling odd-meters (in this case, an oddly-syncopated 7/4) as well as a completely different side of Tonooka's playing - here she repeats phrases while changing them a note or two at a time, in an almost Terry Riley-like fashion. The trio also excels on the slower pieces and ballads such as 'Nami's Song,' 'Dreaming of Tibet,' 'All of You,' and the ethereal title track. Reid shines especially brightly on several of these tracks, proving once again why he's one of the most active jazz bassists around.

One of the best piano trio recordings of 2008, Long Ago Today marks the triumphant return of Sumi Tonooka, a major jazz talent. Sadly, "Long Ago Today" is also the swan song for the trio's courageous drummer Bob Braye, who fought Guillain-Barre syndrome for several years but died shortly after the CD was completed. Though not well-known, his playing lit up some of my favorite modern jazz recordings of the early 70s, such as Calvin Keys' "Shawn-eeq."

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Sumi Tonooka Trio
  • CD Title: Long Ago Today
  • Genre: Contemporary Jazz / Modern
  • Year Released: 2008
  • Record Label: Artists Recording Collective (ARC)
  • Tracks: Be The Dance, All of You, The Clinging, Dreaming of Tibet, Quantum Question, Long Ago Today, Renewal, Moroccan Daze, Just For Now, Namis Song'
  • Musicians: Sumi Tonooka (acoustic piano), Rufus Reid (contrabass), Bob Braye (drums)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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