Branches Vol. 2
Release date: June 18, 2021
Label: Outside In Music
Branches Vol. 2 is the eagerly-awaited new installment of the imaginative violinist-composer-arranger Tomoko Omura’s Roots series. A companion to last summer’s critically acclaimed Branches Vol. 1, this vibrant issue features six more of the Shizuoka-born artist’s original compositions inspired by Japanese folktales, and arrangements of Japanese popular songs. Accompanying Omura on this exploration of sound and culture is her working quintet made up of guitarist Jeff Miles, pianist Glenn Zaleski, bassist Pablo Menares and drummer Jay Sawyer.
In 2015, New York-based Tomoko Omura released Roots, a ten-track collection of well known Japanese songs rearranged for a modern jazz quintet. Since then, the violinist has made a concerted effort to intertwine her Japanese heritage with her virtuosic jazz artistry on each subsequent recording project. “There’s a promise inherent in contemporary music, and it goes something like this: with people from various backgrounds—culturally, ideologically, religiously, aesthetically—creating art, everyone can benefit from the exposure to new ideas,” remarked Downbeat Magazine’s Dave Cantor in his Editor’s Pick review of Omura’s initial Branches offering. On this riveting follow up, the synergy between the ensemble’s five members has been fortified by continual collaboration. Omura deepens her compelling tribute to Japan with evocative material that builds a causeway between deeply rooted tradition and contemporary invention.
Branches Vol. 2 is split evenly between Omura-penned compositions and folk songs, tallying three of each. The album begins with a stately march leading to a luscious passage of pizzicato violin, vocals and rhythmic underpinnings from Omura’s steadfast rhythm section. The piece is “Come Firefly”, a well known traditional Japanese folk tune. “Fireflies are magical creatures that have always fascinated me,” shared Omura. “My rendition of this folk song has a sci-fi element. I was imagining communication through lights by celestial beings.” Omura’s violin soars above overdriven guitar and discordant pianistic refrains on this surrealist celebration.
In a 2021 feature in Strings Magazine, Omura shared that her Roots project is ongoing, and something that she plans to continue exploring. She told journalist Greg Cahill: “It’s developing in a few interesting directions. Just like branches. I like storytelling in music that takes us somewhere else while listening. Also, for me, re-discovering the Japanese musical elements and using them in new ways is a fun thing to do. It’s still an ongoing project, and I’m already thinking about where it can go next.”
Branches Vol. 2
Release date: June 18, 2021
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 after using instruments and taking different size guides from NT instruments guide to violin sizes. 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.
Branches Vol. 2
Shizuoka-born violinist/composer Tomoko Omura’s fifth album, Branches Vol. 2, is her follow-up to last summer’s Branches Vol. 1, featuring six more of her original compositions inspired by Japanese folktales and arrangements of Japanese popular songs. Read this feature here.
BEST OF JAZZ
"This music is so lively and evocative; I can’t imagine seeing them live in an underground jazz club. Branches Vol. 2 certainly needs the vitality of a park to fully grasp its dimension. Fortunately, New York has some very nice ones." Read this review here.
"This elegant album braids jazz with the collective unconscious, using centuries-old melodies to travel from darkness to light." Read the full feature here.
NEW YORK MUSIC DAILY
"Don’t be surprised to see this album on a lot of best-of-2021 lists assuming that those who put them together haven’t collectively taken the needle of death." Review here.
"Though it hardly needs be stated outright, a third volume in the series can't arrive soon enough." Read the full review here.
"Each tune (whether it is directly related to a folk-tale or not) carries a narrative, with moods that change from trepidation to ennui, from calmness to intensity, often ending in a feeling of sadness or loss. The music is infused with melodic and chordal hints of the Japanese traditions in which Omura is steeped, and her band responds warmly to these.." Read the full review here.
"Tomoko Omura is a wonderful violinist and talented champion of Japanese folklore." Review in Russian here.
Read the feature story, 'Tomoko Omura on Blending Jazz With Japanese Folk Tales' here.
Branches Vol. 1
"A gifted composer and passionate instrumentalist." - Feature article here.
"Branches, Vol. 1 is a delightful reminder that no one entirely reflects their upbringing or their current cultural mores but some fascinating combination of the two." Article 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." Read this review here.
Best Jazz on Bandcamp. "The flowing melodicism of these pieces honored the framework of the original works while still allowing the soloists ample berth to wander far and wide." Read it here 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 the full 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.
"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 the 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.
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 the full review here.