Tomoko Omura ‘Branches Vol. 1’ CD (Outside in Music) 5/5

Making her debut for Outside In Music, Japanese violinist, composer, producer and arranger Tomoko Omura presents us with six compositions on this, her fourth album as leader. And rather exciting it is too, with her band; Jeff Miles on guitar, Glenn Zaleski on piano, Pablo Menares on bass and Jay Sawyer on drums, “Branches Vol.1” achieves a wonderful balance and harmony between all of the instruments to create a highly compelling contemporary jazz album.

Omura’s compositions are inspired by Japanese folktales and popular songs and her music is refreshingly dynamic and inventive. There’s a crispness and vitality running through this album that in my listening experience is often hard to find among violin led jazz ensembles. Omura seems to have a clearly defined feel and presence to her writing and performing, suggesting a very natural understanding of her cultural and jazz traditions, which brings an intuitive warmth and freedom of expression to the music recorded here.

In 2004 Omura relocated to America to further her studies, gaining many accolades along the way. Since moving to New York in 2010, the violinist has released several albums and gained a large amount of experience performing with many well-known musicians across many different musical genres. It’s clear to me, listening to this album, that she has successfully integrated much of this experience into her music, with a masterful creativity and originality now flowing from her bow. The mind, body, heart and soul appear to be as one as she rewards the listener with an effortlessly virtuosic performance.

It’s evident from the outset that the composer has a vision for her music that encourages a collaborative approach from all of the musicians involved. Most noticeable throughout this session is the intelligent use of instrumentation, especially the partnership between the two lead string instruments, Omura’s violin and Miles’ guitar. As the opening piece, the classic 1944 “Moonlight in Vermont” unfolds, Omura pays particular attention to the lyrical structure, which interestingly follows the ancient traditional form of a Japanese haiku poem. “Three Magic Tales” combines a lovely Japanese traditional feel with modern jazz aesthetics, putting the listener somewhere in the middle of a beautiful Japanese water-garden with drifting musical notes skating the waters. The exciting “The Revenge of the Rabbit” mixes some classy, energised soloing with a rich, rhythmic eloquence. The intro to “Return to the Moon” has an incandescent beauty that flows eloquently into the main tune itself. This is a simply gorgeous piece of music, reminiscent perhaps of a Bill Frisell piece. “Konomichi” is a well-known Japanese Folk Song, originally written by Kodak’s Yomada. It sounds familiar somehow, like a long-lost memory making its way back into the present day.

“Branches Vol.1” is an excellent album that shows in many ways the skill and maturity of a wonderful writer and musician; Tomoko Omura. On this evidence, I very much look forward to hearing Vol.2.

Mike Gates