Branches Vol. 1
Release date: August 28, 2020
Label: Outside In Music
Branches Vol. 1 is the fourth album from New York-based, Japanese violinist, composer, producer and arranger Tomoko Omura. On her debut recording for Outside In Music, the Shizuoka-born artist presents a six-track collection of original compositions inspired by Japanese folktales and such, in addition to some reimagined arrangements of popular Japanese songs. Branches Vol. 1 amplifies and elaborates upon the musical and contextual ideas that the violinist first explored on her 2015 release Roots. To bring this innovative new album to fruition, Omura is joined by Jeff Miles on guitar, Glenn Zaleski on piano, Pablo Menares on bass and Jay Sawyer on drums.
Regarded by Downbeat magazine as “a leader with a fine future”, Tomoko Omura is among today's leading voices in jazz violin. Upon its release, Roots was praised by fellow violinist Christian Howes as “a tremendous accomplishment, and undoubtedly one of the most important and creative jazz albums produced by a violinist in recent history.” While this compelling tribute to her native Japan offered unique and original arrangements of ten classic Japanese folk and popular songs, Branches Vol. 1 serves to display Omura’s dynamic talents as not only a virtuosic violinist and arranger but as a truly inventive composer. On this new album, Omura accompanies four original compositions with two rearranged tracks. Branches Vol. 1 opens with the 1944 classic gem, “Moonlight In Vermont”, originally written by John Blackburn (lyrics) and Karl Sessdorf (music). Omura pays particular attention to the lyrical structure, which interestingly follows the ancient traditional form of a Japanese haiku poem:
“Pennies in a stream
Falling leaves, a sycamore
Moonlight in Vermont”
Reminiscent of the syllabic rhythm, the arrangement is also treated with a Haiku vamp, which utilises the traditional 5-7-5 rhythmic form. While “Three Magic Charms” takes inspiration from a Japanese folktale (also known as “San mai no Ofuda”), “Revenge Of The Rabbit” which features the skilled delivery of three instrumental solos, is influenced by another Japanese folktale, “Kachi Kachi Yama”. “Return To The Moon” is another original Omura-penned composition, which reflects upon the folktale, “Princess Kaguya”, while “Konomichi” is a well-known Japanese folk song originally written by Kosaku Yamada. The lyrics are written by Hakusyu Kitahara, and are reminiscent of his journey from Japan’s northernmost point to its southernmost point.
Branches Vol. 1 follows the 2017 release of Post Bop Gypsies (Inner Circle), a contemporary jazz trio album featuring the classic Gypsy jazz instrumentation of violin, guitar and bass. Strongly informed by the jazz violin tradition, Tomoko Omura’s 2008 self-released debut album Visions, is a collection of seven dynamic original pieces, each of which is dedicated to one of the greats of the instrument, from Stuff Smith to Zbigniew Seifert. Violinist Matt Glaser praises Visions as such: “Her playing here is uniformly amazing, with great ideas, great tone, perfect intonation and great feel...”. “Mark's Passion”, dedicated to Mark Feldman, was awarded an Honorable Mention in the 2008 International Songwriting Competition. The release of Visions also prompted Strings Magazine to name Omura a “Rising Star” in 2009. In 2014, she was chosen as a semi finalist of the inaugural International Zbigniew Seifert Jazz Violin Competition in Krakow, Poland. Through 2015-2019, she has been named a “Rising Star” in Downbeat magazine's prestigious Critic's Poll.
Originally from Shizuoka, Japan, Omura began studying the violin at a young age with her mother, and began playing jazz music while studying at Yokohama National University. In 2004, Tomoko relocated to the United States when she was awarded a scholarship to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. While at Berklee, Tomoko worked with such legendary musicians as George Garzone, Hal Crook, Ed Tomassi, Jamey Haddad, Matt Glaser and Rob Thomas. In 2005, during her sophomore year, she was awarded Berklee's prestigious Roy Haynes Award; an award given to one student for their exceptional improvisational skills. Tomoko was the first violinist in Berklee's history to receive this award. She graduated summa cum laude in 2007.
Since moving to NY in 2010, Tomoko has performed with a wide range of musicians including Fabian Almazan, Paquito D'Rivera, Camila Meza, Aubrey Johnson, Annie Chen, Tammy Scheffer, Joanna Wallfisch, Carolina Calvache, Mario Castro, Vadim Neselovskyi, Daniel Foose, Simon Yu's Exotic Experiment and The Mahavishnu Project. She has previously been a full time member of world music band, The Guy Mendilow Ensemble, Celtic music band, RUNA and the vintage jazz band, Carte Blanche.
THE JAZZ SESSION
Violinist Tomoko Omura‘s latest album is Branches, Vol. 1. In this interview, she talks about the album’s sonic landscape; how she drew from Japanese folktales to write the music; the gorgeous artwork by Trina Hines; and a lot more. Be sure to also watch the illustrated music video for “Revenge of the Rabbit.” Check this podcast here.
“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." Check this review here.
NICHOLAS F. MONDELLO
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"There is much depth, vision, and emotion in Branches Vol. 1. It is a superb outing that certainly begs a Vol. 2." Read this full review here.
"The violinist continues in that vein on her newest, with the help of guitarist Jeff Miles, pianist Glenn Zaleski, bassist Pablo Menares, and drummer Jay Sawyer." Check this review here.
"JazzTimes is honored to present the premiere of the video for “The Revenge of the Rabbit” by violinist, composer, and arranger Tomoko Omura." Check this premiere out here.
"Based on the story of Princess Kaguya—also rendered as one of the most expensive Japanese films to date—Omura sketches “Return To The Moon” as a lament, depicting a space-bound royal leaving behind familiarity and memories to head home. Reaching the end of Branches Vol. 1 is just about as difficult." Read this full review here.
"Whether newly roasting some chestnut or taking you down the rabbit hole, this is a hostess that knows how to treat her guests right. Well done." Read this full review here.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Branches, Vol. 1 is hands down one of this year's most exciting recordings to date." Read this full review here.
LET'S CALL THIS
"The comparisons don’t end there; Branches Vol. 1 clocks in at a brisk 36 minutes, but it’s as light and refreshing as a bottle of sparkling rosé." Read this full review here.
"The release is distinguished by strong compositions and ensemble performances, but the major selling-point is Omura's violin playing, with every performance elevated by expressive, vocal-like articulations and impassioned soloing." Read this full review here.