Michael Tucker, Jazz Journal UK
Born in Tokyo in 1973, the American violinist Okura recently converted to Judaism: the album title Ima Ima apparently means “mum” in Hebrew and “now” in Japanese. Based in New York – and classically trained at The Juillard School – she has worked with Michael Brecker, Lee Konitz and Steve Sallow, Dianne Reeves and David Bowie. She’s an excellent player – in equal measure extrovert and swinging, mellow and thoughtful – and a refreshingly broad-minded composer and arranger, sensitive to both spare modal mood and enriching harmonic movement. If there are delicate textures and voicings here – witness the opening of Ima Ima – there is also plenty of diversely grooved muscle, epitomized by the burning development of the initially abstracted Blues in Jade, but one excellent piece in a suite of knockout compositions.
Okura’s Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble has long garnered critical praise and with Ima Ima, she has fashioned a flowing, widely cast yet integrated album as poetically compelling as it is rhythmically energizing. Sample the subtly swelling voices of the beautifully driven Tomiya or the similarly shape shifting and potent A Summer in Jerusalem, with its eventual passing allusions of Sketches of Spain eliciting some lovely lines from Harrell. Or relish the near-Alan Hovhaness atmosphere in the rubato opening of Birth of Shakyamuni – a violin, flute and harp-fed piece which later develops some diversely swinging, deliciously pitched passages before the coda’s reprise of the initial, deeply reflective mood. 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.