By Howard Mandel | Published April 2017
Stars Across The Ocean is the second benefit album by Japanese-American veteran drummer Akira Tana’s quartet Otonowa for communities struck by 2011’s Great Eastern Earthquake and Tsunami.
Ranging from sophisticated, expressive post-bop to heartfelt adaptations of songs of Japanese folk, pop and religious origin, the cohesive band evokes an array of responses to the tragedy—and the album might also be enjoyed without any reference to its inspiration. Melancholy wafts through the program, but overall Otonowa’s music seems focused on skillful adaptability, upbeat resilience and modern jazz’s continuity with traditions.
Driven by Tana’s emphatically swinging yet colorfully diffuse rhythms, pianist Hirahara sparkles in solos and comps fully and warmly. Masaru Koga is masterful across his array of instruments, especially the three saxophones; he’s influenced by John Coltrane but projects himself through well-turned phrases and furious passion. Bassist Noriyuki “Ken” Okada is firmly in the pocket with Tana.
There are familiar touchstones—“Donguri Koro Koro” is based on “Rhythm” changes, “Temujin” launches from a bit of “Freedom Jazz Dance” and Tana’s “Hope For Now” has Art Blakely-like strengths—but standout tracks also include the traditional “Toryanse” performed sans piano, Koga’s shakuhachi (Japanese flute) feature “Kurodahushi” and “Astro Boy,” an unexpectedly deep probing of the theme from a classic cartoon show.
Stars Across The Ocean: Down Town; Temujin; Hamachidori; Toryanse; Stars Across The Ocean; Hope For Now; Kurodabushi; Jogashima No Ame; Tetsuwan Atomu; Nine Gates; Machiboke; Donguri Koro Koro; Nembutsu. (67:02)
Personnel: Akira Tana, drums; Art Hirahara, piano; Masaru Koga, saxophones, flute, shakuhachi, percussion; Noriyuki “Ken” Okada, bass.