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The Asuka Kakitani Jazz Orchestra’s debut album titled Bloom, which was released on January 26 on Nineteen-Eight Records, is a unique blend of jazz with strains of Japanese melodies folded in from the brainchild of Kakitani, a truly gifted Japanese-born composer and conveyed by a host of leading musicians.
Kakitani, who is also the arranger and conductor is joined by an 18-piece orchestra, which includes John O’Gallagher and Ben Kono on the alto and soprano saxophone as well as the flute, Jacob Garchik and Matt McDonald on trombone, Pete McCann on acoustic and electric guitar, Dave Ambrosio on acoustic and electric bass, John Bailey on the trumpet and flugelhorn, Jason Rigby on the tenor saxophone and the clarinet, Mark Ferber on drums, Mike Eckroth on the piano, Kenny Berger on the baritone saxophone and bass clarinet and Portuguese-born Sara Serpa on vocals, among others.
Bloom opens with its title track and it’s a stunning composition which Kakitani wrote as a BMI baritone saxophonist Manny Albam commission. It’s the longest track on the album, which is fitting because the rising energy between Bailey’s trumpet and Rigby’s tenor sax play could make listeners envision a flower’s actual blooming process. They may also think of Kenny G as Rigby plays pronounced yet smooth notes. The song climaxes with Ferber pounding away on the drums giving the song an even sprightlier vibe.
“Electric Images” begins with Eckroth expertly tickling the ivories as solos from Ambrosio’s acoustic bass and McCann’s acoustic guitar can be heard softly strumming away in the background. The track starts off slowly but then really kicks in as Garchik’s trombone and O’Gallagher and Kono’s alto and soprano sax prowesses announce themselves.
“Dance One,” which earned the 2006 BMI Foundation Charlie Parker Award, emanated from Kakitani gazing at impressionist painter Henri Matisse’s “Dance 1,” which depicts five naked dancers with their hands interconnected, caught in mid-stride, almost floating on fields of blue and green. Garchik’s fervent trombone along with Ferber’s commanding drum play start the track off with a buoyant tone. O’Gallagher’s alto sax then enters into the melody bringing a smooth jazz vibe with it. “Bumblebee Garden” is slightly different than the previous tracks. It begins much softer with a trombone solo from McDonald. In the background, McCann’s acoustic guitar strumming can be heard distantly. Then, Ferber’s drums blithely beat as McDonald continues his practiced trombone solo. About three-quarters of the way through, Serpa’s strikingly sonorous vocals ring out. Her artful scatting is accompanied by sweet flute play in the background.
To conclude, Bloom from the Asuka Kakitani Jazz Orchestra is an album listeners will want to turn on when they want to relax and unwind to smooth jazz with a bit of a kick.