Tomoko Omura is one of the most distinctive and purposeful violinists in jazz. Her album Branches Vol. 1 is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s refreshingly uncluttered, tuneful and picturesque, especially when it comes to the nocturnes.
She opens it with a radical reinvention of Moonlight in Vermont. Just as soon as Omura’s theme threatens to rise to total self-combustion, she and the band bring it down to elegant, purposeful, optimistic lyricism. Pianist Glenn Zaleski takes a masterfully light-fingered solo to a similarly triumphant crescendo followed by spare, soaring riffs by the bandleader over a loopy pulse. Late 70s Jean-Luc Ponty comes to mind, but with a more organic backdrop.
Three Magic Charms is aptly titled, Zaleski’s starry lines mingling with sailing violin, guitarist Jeff Miles’ fanged swells and accents adding a menacing edge over bassist Pablo Menares and drummer Jay Sawyer’s dubwise pulse. As it grows funkier, Sawyer’s subtle carnivalesque touches lure his bandmates into similar shenanigans.
Zaleski’s sternly low, modal chords anchor The Revenge of the Rabbit as Omura slides and soars while the drums scramble and cluster. Again, the rhythm takes on a funkier bounce for Zaleski’s scampering solo before he moves back down, Omura’s woozy, processed, atmospheric lines taking over. In this case, living well seems to be the best revenge a critter could want
Zaleski glimmers amid drifting atmospherics as Return to the Moon gets underway, Omura’s koto-like flickers kicking off a slow, richly suspenseful, anthemic sway: this mission turns out to be a smashing success. Both the space-jazz of Bryan and the Aardvarks and the driftiest Pink Floyd soundscapes are good points of comparison.
Omura winds up the record with Konomichi, a lively, leaping tune with Zaleski on electric and acoustic piano and a fleetingly stinging bass/violin break. Good news: Omura has an excellent, eclectic follow-up volume just out as well