Miho Hazama

Dancer In Nowhere

Every moment of Miho Hazama’s Dancer In Nowhere seems intended for full emotional impact—there isn’t one throw-away on this meticulously crafted recording. As a composer, she maximizes the sound and scope of each of the 13 instruments in her experimental ensemble—a standard rhythm section, a cluster of horns, an array of strings—collectively called m_unit. And as a conductor, she makes sure that each sound gets its own hearing as it cycles into prominence through the kaleidoscopic changes in her compositions. That said, there’s nothing overblown about the recording: Hazama’s compositions are as economical as they are lush—a tricky balance.

The “nowhere” part of the album title refers to the composer’s intent to channel intense, abstract notions into musical realities. To achieve this, she usually opens with a simple declarative melodic statement that serves as the departure point for the exploratory gambit that ensues. On “Somnambulant,” Hazama’s winning bid for the Charlie Parker Jazz Composition Prize in the 2015 BMI Jazz Workshop, she establishes the main motif in a lone, luminous vocal line (Kavita Shah) before the rhythm (Jake Goldbas) and the saxophone (Jason Rigby) enter, pulling listeners into a suspenseful, ever-deepening harmonic montage. Even with its always-morphing roadmap, the piece does contain two big turnabouts: a wailing, bluesy electric guitar solo (Lionel Loueke) and a sweeping final cadence in the strings—no voice, no sax, no guitar, no drums. Remarkable.

One of the reasons Hazama’s compositions work as well as they do is her strict attention to dynamics that facilitate mood shifts. On “Today, Not Today,” the simple, syncopated opening sets up an expectation for a laid-back groove. But as the strings enter, and the vibes (James Shipp) ratchet up, and the trumpet (Jonathan Powell) begins to soar, a denouement into a full-throttle finish seems not only apt, but necessary. In contrast, on the title cut, the last track on the album, the sweetly repeating melody takes on added urgency as Hazama leads her band through several cycles of increasing harmonic and rhythmic complexity—this time to a welcomed soft close.

Some of Hazama’s pieces here are closer to what we’ve come to expect from the big band sound, with a ringing high hat or dominant horn section. Composer John Williams’ “Olympic Fanfare And Theme,” the only cover on the album, and “Il Paradiso Del Blues,” an impressive showcase for Hazama’s horn arranging skills, both fit into this slot, though just narrowly. Even on these, Hazama finds a way to twist the tune to her advantage—and the listener’s surprise.

—Suzanne Lorge

Dancer In Nowhere: Today, Not Today; The Cyclic Number; RUN; Somnambulant; Il Paradiso Del Blues; Magyar Dance; Olympic Fanfare And Theme; Dancer In Nowhere. (65:22)

Personnel:Miho Hazama, conductor; Steve Wilson, alto, soprano saxophone, flute; Ryoji Ihara, tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute (1, 2, 3, 5, 7); Jason Rigby, tenor sax, clarinet (4, 8); Andrew Gutauskas, baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Jonathan Powell, trumpet, flugelhorn; Adam Unsworth, French horn; Tomoko Akaboshi, Sita Chay, violin; Atsuki Yoshida, viola; Meaghan Burke, cello; James Shipp, vibraphone, guiro, shekere; Billy Test, piano; Sam Anning, bass; Jake Goldbas, Nate Wood (8), drums; Kavita Shah, vocals (4, 6); Lionel Loueke, guitar (8).

Ordering info: sunnysiderecords.com

On Sale Now
April 2023
Brad Mehldau
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