Wow! New York based Hammond B3 organist and pianist Akiko Tsuruga’s latest CD, Sweet And Funky, is as the kids used to say "the bomb." This disc burns with energy, brawn and vigor right from the first track until the closing notes of the last. Tsuruga is the first organist to take no prisoners since the Mighty Burner himself, Charles Earland, and power-man Joey DeFrancesco. This recording is great, and that may be the understatement of the year.
Take, for example, Tsuruga’s solo on "DLG." After a burning head with light trading figures between herself and guitarist Eric Johnson, Tsuruga flies off into some truly hot playing. Beginning by building single-note lines up to a plateau, she then exceeds that by full-out chordal punctuations before turning it all loose at the end. Tsuruga has not only technique in spades, but also the musical intellect to bring it all to bear into a coherent musical vision. Vince Ector’s marvelously thrusting drums push and push behind the solo throughout until you can’t believe he can drive Tsuruga any further, but drive on he does. The duet they create, with Tsuruga playing her own bass lines on the pedals, creates the epitome of what jazz is supposed to be all about - the sharing of heartfelt emotion in the heat of the moment.
Even on the slower mellower tunes like "Sweet and Lovely," Tsuruga has too much funkiness in her to settle for playing just a "good" solo. Her lines pile on top of each other with the force of a Tsunami until the energy has been ratcheted up to tidal wave proportions. This happens on every cut. "Saving All My Love For You" may start romantic, but by the time the trio is done with it, the music is ripping. The Roberta Flack and Bobby Hathaway pop standard "Where Is The Love" also begins reverently, but kicks and kicks and kicks by the time this group is done with it.
Tsuruga came to New York from her home town of Osaka, Japan in 2001. A graduate of the Osaka College Of Music, she worked with artists like Roy Hargrove, Jeff "Tain" Watts and Grady Tate while still in Japan. Grady Tate, who she credits with being the most influential musician in her career, encouraged her to move to New York. It was smart to record the current working group on this disc, because they tear it up the way only bands that are working together regularly can.