MUSIC INTERVIEW: JUNKO ONISHI
Japanese Piano Sensation discusses her new Jazz CD “Baroque” and
April 4th performance at Catalina Jazz Club
By: Melissa Berry
March 30, 2011
Los Angeles – Baroque, has been a long time coming, but good things come to those who wait, and her current body of work has certainly been worth the wait. Baroque is much in keeping with the classical definition of Baroque: a style characterized by dynamic movement, overt emotion, and in this case, a love of musical rhetoric and ornamentation. Onishi presents all of this in Baroque’s compelling collection of her interpretations of some jazz classics from the jazz greats as well as some original compositions.’s current album,
In the great jazz tradition of innovation realized through improvisation, Onishi honors this by bringing the past to the present through her impressive technique and respectful musical integrity. When I asked her about her musicianship and who inspired her, she mentioned everyone we get a taste of on the album: Art Tatum, Charlie Mingus, , , Eubie Blake and more. Using the signature pieces and riffs of these great musicians, she has meticulously sculpted them to be her own.
The album’s opener “Tutti” is just that. With tutti meaning “everybody” or “all”, this album is collaboration and not just an ensemble. Working with longtime band members Rodney Whitaker and Reginald Veal, (bass), Wycliffe Gordon (trombone), and fellow former Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra band mate Herlin Riley(drums)—along with stellar guests Nicholas Payton(trumpet) and woodwind/reed James Carter, Baroque is Onishi's, yet every musician has his moment. Riley and Gordon solo hypnotically in avant-garde fashion on the album's obvious highlight inspired by Curt Weill’s 1928 “Three Penny Opera”, which, according to the liners, features a piano solo based a musical score by Onishi's mentor and friend, the great Jaki Byard. On numbers like bassist Charles Mingus' notoriously difficult and revered “Meditations On Integration (Or For A Pair Of Wire-Cutters)”, she seems to have taken a page from the composer's book although she does throw in a few allowing her fellow musicians room for their own interpretation.
With her classical training as a solid foundation, Onishi gives herself two beautiful unaccompanied piano showcases on Baroque: Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust" and Eubie Blake's "Harlem stride piano bass. She has even included some of ’s more esoteric riffs including 19th Century American composer Edward MacDowell and his To a Wild Rose, and Ethelbert Nevins’ dialect song “ ” (only known to me because of my grandmother!) in “Memories of You”. The ending of “Memories of You” is ephemeral as it just trips up the keyboard in a series of arpeggios and continues off into a vapor of harmonics; both “Memories of You” and “Stardust” are wonderfully fresh takes, technically impressive, and inventive without fussiness.” in the style of Art Tatum. Both have wonderful passages if tenor leading anchored by the infamous
Baroque's expansiveness and variety gives Onishi the opportunity to showcase her formidable compositional and arranging skills. Her music, always excellent, is constantly evolving which keeps this current album expansive, unpredictable and revelatory in the originality of her musicianship.
For Fans Of: Art Tatum, Charlie Mingus, Errol Garner
Standout Tracks: “Memories of You,” “Meditations for a Pair of Wire Cutters,” “Three Penny Opera,” “Flamingo”.
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