By John McDonough | Published November 2020
Miki Yamanaka comes to us only with one previous leader date and membership in saxophonist Roxy Coss’ ensemble. But her calling card becomes the opening track of this new album. It shows what she can do, which is a lot. “Pre School” is a cunning bebop contrafact on a contrafact that once might have cradled the wit of Bud Powell or Sonny Stitt. Structured in the AABA format of jazz tradition, it welcomes listeners with an implicit familiarity of form and ingenuity of spirit, displaying Yamanaka’s crisp attack and swinging drive. It’s the best track on the set. Another high point is Randy Weston’s “Berkshire Blues,” which she burrows into with a shrewd and elegant funkiness.
Her principal companion is altoist Anthony Orji, who slides in obliquely like a dry and thirsty desert breeze. His disposition is initially shy and out of tempo, but slips comfortably into the flow with a soft and feathery austerity in the Paul Desmond-Lee Konitz vein. His cool emotional restraint never rustles a hint of vibrato. “Human Dust Suite” is a sequence of five unrelated pieces, ranging from playful to a lovely, Billy Strayhorn-like solemnity. It’s said to be inspired by a photo of cremation remains, inviting needlessly vague expectations. It’s an intrusive pretense that endows an otherwise interesting quartet with a distracting self-importance not sustained in the music. If the intent is irony, its subtlety is beyond these ears.
Fortunately there are no literal translations in music. So, don’t let that divert you from taking in the warm winds Yamanaka and Orji have stirred here. A smart, cohesive and listenable success.
Human Dust Suite: Pre School; March; First Day Of Spring; Human Dust Suite I (Brain); Human Dust Suite II (Hatsu); Human Dust Suite III (Tummy); Human Dust Suite IV (Feet Go Bad First); Human Dust Suite V (Party’s Over); O 2017; After The Night; Berkshire Blues. (55:47)
Personnel: Miki Yamanaka, piano, vibraphone; Anthony Orji, alto saxophone; Orlando Le Fleming, bass; Jochen Rueckert, drums.