This is a fantastic CD from Chie Imaizumi (pronunciation help: Chee-ay Ee-my-zoo-me), a bright rising star in the jazz composer heavens. A native of Japan, Imaizumi is a Berklee College of Music grad, having attended on a full scholarship. She entered Berklee as a performing pianist, but left an award-winning composer. Her works have been performed at the North Sea Jazz Festival, International Association of Jazz Educator (IAJE) Conferences, The Berklee Jazz Festival, and others.
Imaizumi’s debut recording on Capri, Unfailing Kindness, proves her to be an expert in jazz harmony and form. She has extraordinary range as a composer and arranger, moving across styles and tempos adroitly. She describes her approach this way: "When I create music, I want it to represent a person, place, or idea. I tailor my melodies and harmonies to fit the moods I want to create. I am not finished with a tune until I can listen to it and honestly cry and/or smile from the memories it conjures in my mind."
The music on this CD is beautiful, joyful, pensive, energetic, calming.... and sometimes it just plain swings. The opener, "A Change for the Better," sets the stage by reflecting Imaizumi’s transition from pianist to composer; it opens mellow and sparse, building to a gentle swing, crescendos, then pauses. The break ends with a piano cadence that sounds like the start of something you would have heard at the Copacabana in the 1950s, and it morphs into a light-hearted Latin swinger. The sound seems to express Imaizumi’s joy at discovering her composing chops, releasing her from the constraint of a single instrumental voice.
The compositions come to life, of course, through the voices of the outstanding musicians assembled for the recording by Greg Gisbert, who also covered lead trumpet duties for the session. Under Imaizumi’s direction, the band made the entire recording in one day. The solo work throughout is solid; Alex Heitlinger does an especially good job carrying the ramblin’ trombone sound on "The More the Merrier," including some brief plunger work to close out the piece.
There are two pieces that fit less comfortably in the otherwise joyful set here: "Lonely" is a moody ballad with a simple, pretty melody played by Mike Abbott on guitar followed by a Greg Gisbert flugelhorn solo. The piece is nice but it brings the party mood down considerably. The other is "Another Day," a bluesy gospel vocal about making it through the trials of life. Obviously Imaizumi wanted to say what this piece expresses, but it seems odd as a closer.
But these are small complaints. Unfailing Kindness is a marvelous effort by Chie Imaizumi and it portends much wonderful music in the years ahead from this talented young jazz composer.