Miho Hazama - Dancer in Nowhere

Label: Sunnyside, 2019

Personnel includes: Miho Hazama: composition, conduction; Steve Wilson: alto saxophone; Jason Rigby: tenor saxophone; Andrew Gutauskas: baritone saxophone; Atsuki Yoshida: viola; Ryoji Ihara: saxophone; Jonathan Powell: trumpet; Lionel Loueke: guitar; James Shipp: vibraphone; Billy Test: piano; Kavita Shah: vocals; Sam Anning: bass; Jake Goldbas: drums; Nate Wood: drums; and more.

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Despite her young age, the classically trained, Tokyo-born Miho Hazama is an accomplished conductor/composer who has so much to give to the contemporary jazz universe. Dancer in Nowhere is her third release with the m_unit, her highly qualified 13-piece signature ensemble.

The comprehensive music includes several stylistic influences combined within lush arrangements, with the eight tracks unveiling intricacy in the composition and sagacity in the form. The collective navigates odd meters and lays down churning rhythms with ardent dedication, starting with the graceful "Today, Not Today", whose syncopated and asymmetric course whisks us away to uplifting orchestrated sections. The muted trumpet of Jonathan Powell, who begins slowly and ends feverishly, and the vibraphone of James Shipp, backed by stringed ostinatos and woodwind melodies, are the free voices here.

Bassist Sam Anning starts “The Cyclic Number” with a solitary act, plucking vigorously and adding stylish slides before putting up a shimmering groove in four, ofttimes interrupted by passages of a different order. Sometimes, those passages allude to a slippery crossover jazz like happened during the statements of Atsuki Yoshida and Ryoji Ihara on viola and saxophone, respectively. The closing vamp brings drummer Jake Goldbas to the forefront.

Vocalist Kavita Shah gives meaning to the celestial chamber texture of “Somnambulant”, a piece that sparkles with improvisations by tenor saxist Jason Rigby and guest guitarist Lionel Loueke, who adjust to distinct contexts. The latter, in possession of a delay-drenched sound, concentrates his efforts in the blues-rock idiom.

Capable of waking us up from any sleepwalking trance, “Il Paradiso Del Blues” leans heavily on the off-the-cuff roller-coaster rides of altoist Steve Wilson, who is given more than one opportunity to shine. If he blows the saxophone with fiery energy over a hard-swinging motion, then baritonist Andrew Gutauskas unleashes sultry lines as the Latin rhythms invade the scenario.

Whereas the brashly charming “Magyar Dance” manifests dynamic shifts in tempo, there’s contrapuntal clapping on “Olympic Fanfare and Theme”, penned by John Williams for the 1984 Olympic Games. Some of his motives can be heard on the tune, which, being the shortest in time, features seven soloists.

The session terminates with the title track, where a breezy post-bop in seven bumps into contemporary classical elements and serpentine melodies reminiscent of the Middle East. It is supplemented with solos full of flavor by Rigby on tenor and the illustrious guest Nate Wood on drums.

Motivated by a globalist outlook in music, Ms. Hazama has crafted a collection of tunes whose mature frameworks secure layers of dynamism, all splashed with strong-hued solid colors.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Today, Not Today ► 05 - Il Paradiso Del Blues ► 08 - Dancer in Nowhere