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Reval by Ryo Kawasaki Trio

Reval is an old name for Estonia. Estonia is probably not the first place in the world one thinks of as a great jazz hub. But, as the old song goes, "One never knows, does one?" The veteran Japanese guitarist Ryo Kawasaki recorded there with three excellent Estonian musicians, the result being this diverse and engaging set of originals, standards, and Estonian melodies.

Kawasaki is an inventive guitar player with an interest in and command of a wide range of musical styles. The CD opens up full throttle with the freely swinging "Maximillian," a Kawasaki original somewhat reminiscent of Ornette Coleman's "Ramblin'." The trio slows things down considerably with their version of "You Don't Know What Love Is," and follow that with the album's standout track, "Long Ingliska," a child-like Estonian folk melody which the group wraps around a blues that not only swings, but even rocks. The bands approach to the blues here resembles a rhythmically more sophisticated version of Jeff Beck's Yardbirds.

On this and two other tracks the Trio is augmented by Kristi Keel on English horn. While she isn't asked to do much improvising, her phrasing and tone carry the day, particularly on "Long Ingliska" and on Kawasaki's tender "Waltz for Dodo." On "Tane's [sic] Dream," the sound of her horn over the rhythm section recalls the legendary Coltrane Quartet, but only during the statements of the theme, as the solos fall to Kawasaki and bassist Toivo Unt, bypassing Keel entirely.

Kawasaki is his own man on the guitar, but no musician emerges from a vacuum. "Pirjie (pronounced Piria)" combines elements of Django and flamenco guitar, while his version of "People Make the World Go Round" bears the stamp of Kenny Burrell. The group's arrangement of the Eddie Harris composition "Freedom Jazz Dance" has a funky feel reminiscent of Miles Davis's groups of the early 1970s, and Kawasaki reinforces this by using some John McLaughlin licks at key points.

The band's reading of "Giant Steps" is, for me, the low point of the album. The tempo is sluggish, and the band never seems quite in sync. But the album closes with a good, bluesy take of Kenny Dorham's "Blue Bossa." Unt's solo is tasty and cohesive and drummer Aivar Vassiljev adds nice flourishes at appropriate moments.

This is a solid recording from first to last. Kawasaki is an excellent player, always tasteful and never gratuitous, and the playing of the Estonian musicians around him is wonderful. Recommended for any fan of guitar-based jazz.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Ryo Kawasaki Trio
  • CD Title: Reval
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2001
  • Record Label: Satellite Records
  • Musicians: Ryo Kawasaki (guitar), Toivo Unt (double bass), Aivar Vassiljev (drums), Kristi Keel (english horn)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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