"NPO Trio Live at The Stone"
Meg Okura, Sam Newsome, Jean-Michel Pilc
Street Date: March 15, 2018
Meg Okura & The Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble Featuring Tom Harrell
Street Date: May 13, 2018
Newly established avant-garde and world music label, Chant Records is excited to announce the arrival of NPO Trio with the release of Live at The Stone, which was recorded by the trio, led by Meg Okura during her residency at The Stone in East Village, New York in April of 2016. Following the 2017 release of a duo album by Sam Newsome and Jean-Michel Pilc, Magic Circle, the duo multiplied its dimensions by adding the violinist to their line-up. NPO Trio is now a dynamic group of like-minded friends celebrating freedom of expression through music and sounds. Although the music presented by these three is improvisational, listeners will also hear hints of familiar melodies including well-known Yiddish songs and even excerpts of John Coltrane.
Okura explains that she has always felt emotionally connected to Yiddish melodies. The melodies are always sad and happy at the same time (typically a minor melody with major chords), just like the Japanese expression of happy sad. Reminiscing upon her childhood, Okura recalls consoling herself by truly believing that, “͞...sadness is absolutely necessary for me to experience true happiness in the future.͟ And everytime I hear Jewish songs, it reminds me of my childhood.”The entire concert at The Stone consisted of three extensive improvisational parts. The first part, which is 38 minutes in total, is divided into 6 shorter segments, each given individual titles for the purpose of this album. The melody often quoted during these first six tracks is a famous Yiddish song by Mark Warshawsky (1848–1907), “Oyfn Pripetchik”. The song is about a rabbi teaching his children about the value of education and perseverance. It also mentions exodus, reminding us of the sacrifices made by our ancestors, which presents us with the freedom we have today. Track 7, “Unkind Gestures” is a shorter improvisation, which pays homage to John Coltrane’s Giant Steps.
With unique instrumentation including erhu (Japanese flute) IMA IMA brings together some of New York’s finest jazz artists including Sam Newsome, Pablo Aslan, Anne Drummond, Brian Marsella, Rez Abbasi, Sam Sadigursky and Riza Printup as well as special guest trumpeter Tom Harrell. Hailed by the New York Times as “vibrant” and “sophisticated”, Okura’s Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble presents IMA IMA as a celebration of womanhood, particularly motherhood.
Okura became an Ima (meaning mother in Hebrew) seven years ago, so along with being a tribute to Okura’s grandmother, who recently passed away, it is only fitting that IMA IMA will be released on Mother’s Day this year. Okura explains that although many refer to this period of time as an interruption, she prefers to regard it as a constant state of disruptions.
“The earliest compositions on this album being the ones from my pregnancy period only support that claim. However, I do not believe motherhood has had a negative impact on my music.”
Okura explains that disruptions forced her to think more creatively and resourcefully, and so inevitably made her music stronger. It inspired the Japanese native towards integrity, and excellence in her composition, improvisation and performance. Being anything other than the first-rate was not acceptable.
“The last thing I wanted to do as a mother was to use motherhood as an excuse for not being able to achieve excellence.”
Ima Ima - (L'dor Vador) by The Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble was supported by New Music USA, made possible by annual program support and/or endowment gifts from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Francis Goelet Charitable Lead Trusts, Anonymous. To follow the project as it unfolds, visit the project page:
MORE ABOUT MEG OKURA
Formerly a concert violinist, Okura made her U.S. solo debut at the Kennedy Center with the late Alexander Schneider’s New York String Orchestra. She then moved to New York City and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in classical violin from The Julliard School. Advancing her career as a jazz violinist while at the Henry Mancini Institute in Los Angeles, Okura was soloist and the concertmaster for the orchestra backing up Herbie Hancock, Shirley Horn, Diana Krall, and Terence Blanchard, under the batons of music icons as Quincy Jones, Jerry Goldsmith, and Jack Elliot.
Okura quickly became one of the most sought-after violinists on New York City’s music scene, appearing on dozens of recordings with a wide range of artists including David Bowie, Lee Konitz, Diane Reeves, Heidi Grand-Murphy, Sam Newsome, Jesse Harris, Jeremy Pelt, Ziggy Marley and many more. She has toured internationally with the late Michael Brecker, Steve Swallow, Tom Harrell, appearing at venues such as Carnegie Hall, The Barbican, Madison Square Garden, Village Vanguard, Blue Note Tokyo, Hollywood Bowl and at numerous festivals and concert halls around the world. In 2016, Okura held a week-long residency at the Stone in New York City, performing and presenting 12 concerts with her 10 different groups.
Recipient of numerous grants and awards including Metlife Creative Connections Grant (Meet The Composer), Brand Personality Award (Asia Pacific Brands Foundation), Manhattan Community Arts Fund (Lower Manhattan Cultural Council), Jerome Composers Commissioning Program (American Composers Forum), and most recently, New Music USA Project Grant, Okura has also composed/ arranged for several film and television programs such as The Congregation (documentary) and Louie (TV series), as well as, the New York Symphonic Ensemble, Sirius String Quartet, and C. Eule Dance.
She has herself also appeared on many movie soundtracks as a violinist, and erhu player, has been featured in three Cirque du Soleil productions (Varekai, Wintuk and Corteo), and has collaborated and performed with Oscar nominee actor and Columbia recording artist Terrence Howard. For the past ten years, Okura has also been a member of a Jewish/Middle Eastern band “Pharaoh’s Daughter” led by ex-orthodox singer-songwriter and cantor Basya Schechter.
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For NPO Trio - Live at The Stone
“The electricity of the live performance comes through strong, and the presence of this music is immense.” Read the full feature here.
"Progressive jazz by those with the chops to make it more than noodling, this is classic Sunday afternoon recital music taken toothiest level of the game." Read the full review here.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Due to their substantial shared experience, the three musicians have an instantly-apparent rapport, with a synthetic vision that provides impressive cohesion and focus, despite the fully-improvised nature of the performance." Read the full 4-star review here.
"She initiates the final piece, “Yiddish Mama No Tsuki,” with a furious cadenza based on the songs “My Yiddish Mama” and “Kojo No Tsuki” before an Argentinean tango feel threads its way into the ultimately swinging presentation." Read the full review here.
"The mood and music is intuitive and free form, as piano and violin go rhapsodic on 'A Four Forty'." Read the full review here.
"The music on "Live at The Stone" (Chant) by the NPO Trio - made up of Okura, her husband, saxophonist Sam Newsome and pianist Jean-Michel Pilc - is a thrilling improvisational jazz odyssey that was all about "creating on the spot", she says." Read the full feature here.
RAUL DA GAMA
JAZZ DA GAMA
"Texture is everything; the breathtaking silences in between pieces is punctuated by a series of great gulps of air in breathless expectation on the part of the listener who anticipates each great crescendo that leads to the ultimate dénouement of the free improvised works." Read the full review here.
"...the trio shows an inherent musical connection which provides unity and convergence over the fully-improvised, hour-long live performance." Read the full 4 star review here.
NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD
"On these two new releases, violinist Meg Okura's classical virtuosity combines jazz, Jewish and Japanese cultures into a distinctive transcendental musical identity." Read the full review here.
For IMA IMA
"Knowing some of the top names in New York jazz circles and getting them to lend a hand (of course), this spirited, cinematic sized recording opens the ears as well as the eyes to a great musical vista that seems as limitless as it's potential." Read the full review here.
"Ima Ima makes for engaging listening. Filled with strong melodies, excellent arrangements, and fine musicianship..." Read the full review here.
"Ms. Okura was able to create magical crossover soundscapes with intimacy and subtlety, resorting to a pure lyricism and fascinating collective passages that never put the homogeneity of the whole into question." Read the full review here.
"Comfortably transitioning between composed and solo sequences throughout the fifty-eight-minute set, the musicians navigate the intricate pathways of the leader's writing with seeming ease, and woodwinds, strings, harp, and percussion work together to create the impression of an ensemble considerably larger than a tenet." Read the full review here.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"The manner in which all of these aspects and artists magically meld together goes beyond words. Okura and her music are truly in a class of their own." Read the full 4.5 star review here.
"...the self-released "Ima Ima", credited to Okura and the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble featuring trumpeter Tom Harrell is a gorgeous, intricately arranged offering that, in her words, "took several years of work putting each note on paper." Read the full feature here.
DOING JAZZ PODCAST
"Her latest album, Ima Ima, is a collection of well thought out and very well executed compositions that stem out of her role as a mother." Listen to full interview here.
NEW YORK TIMES
"It’s a record of grandiloquent beauty that transitions easily from grooves to big cascades to buoyant swing." Read the full critics pick here.
JAZZ JOURNAL UK
"All Okura's compositions here evince considerable genre-bridging poetic sensibility and structural intelligence; each is well served by spot-on, pin-bright playing all round. A terrific album." Read the full review here.
RAUL DA GAMA
JAZZ DA GAMA
"Miss Okura’s music has a muted serenity that is reflected in her own violin playing, which is complemented by the flute of Anne Drummond, the soprano saxophone of Sam Newsome and the ravishing harp of Riza Printup." Read the full review here.
"...That kind of fearless eclecticism, love of unorthodox instrumentation and laserlike sense of catchy melodies have defined Okura’s work for over a decade." Read the full review here.