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Sumi Tonooka | Long Ago Today

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Long Ago Today

by Sumi Tonooka

A standout jazz trio recording highlighting "provocative and compelling music" New York Times , "Long Ago Today" is music from the heart that pulls you in and makes you want to stay, featuring original compositions by Sumi Tonooka.
Genre: Jazz: Piano Jazz
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Be The Dance
4:40 $0.99
2. All Of You
7:35 $0.99
3. The Clinging
4:13 $0.99
4. Dreaming Of Tibet
4:22 $0.99
5. Quantum Question
5:38 $0.99
6. Long Ago Today
9:58 $0.99
7. Renewal
4:54 $0.99
8. Morrocan Daze
5:36 $0.99
9. Just For Now
6:05 $0.99
10. Nami's Song
8:33 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Sumi Tonooka – Long Ago Today

It seems so long ago today since I first encountered Sumi Tonooka and became aware of her marvelous musicianship. It was in fact nearly thirty years ago that I initially heard her playing in Philly Joe Jones’ quartet and was impressed by the then nineteen year old pianist’s flawless technique, but it wasn’t until later, upon hearing her fronting her own group, that the true depth of her burgeoning ability as a bandleader and composer became apparent. In the three decades since, it has been a distinct pleasure to hear her more than live up to the promise of her early years and blossom into one of the most distinctively talented musicians of her generation.

On Long Ago Today, her fifth date as a leader, Sumi shows just how much her talent has grown in the years since she first began making a name for herself in her native Philadelphia. Her formidable technical abilities, forged through years of study with some of the music’s finest teachers, including Madame Margaret Chaloff and Mary Lou Williams, have increased to the level of genuine virtuosity, which she displays judiciously throughout the date. More importantly, her compositional skills have also developed and the nine satisfying originals here, each one with its own story to tell, reveal her to be one of finest creators of memorable melodies in jazz today.

Sumi notes that her tunes “are not very typical harmonically,” which is one of the main reasons the master musician Rufus Reid has been her bassist of choice for all of her recordings as a leader. “He has a very open approach in dealing with the changes,” she says. “It just works when we play together. There’s this chemistry. He has always had a sound but now it’s even bigger and better. Rufus is truly creative and spontaneous. He has a great sense of humor that comes out in his playing and great love for the music. And like all great musicians he is a great listener and really supports the music.”
Filling out the trio is Bob Braye, a veteran drummer who, despite an impressive resume including stints with Thelonious Monk, Charlie Rouse, Jackie McLean, Pharoah Sanders, Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Blue Mitchell, Woody Shaw, Abbey Lincoln, Gloria Lynn, Nancy Wilson, Larry Gales, Horace Tapscott and many more, remains relatively unknown. Sumi met Bob through her friend, the wonderful tenor saxophonist Erica Lindsay. “She had been gently suggesting that he would be a good drummer for me to check out,” the pianist recalls. “The first time we played together, I remember having so much fun and getting it -- that this was a world class musician. He has a great feel and doesn’t have to play a lot to get that across. Bob's beat is real wide. His style is supportive, expressive and explosive and he has a beautiful drum sound. He’s all ears -- right there with the music as it is happening.”

Sumi composed the date’s opening track, the vibrant Be The Dance, the week before the date knowing that she was going to record with Rufus and Bob. She says, ”It was really composed with Bob Braye in mind. I wanted to have a tune that would embrace his style of playing, something that he could just romp and play freely through. It’s a celebratory 6/8 swing, with the melody primarily in the bass. The bass line just kind of came out at me and I could hear Rufus playing this, with more than one or two raised eyebrows.”
Cole Porter’s All of You, the date’s lone standard, has long been one of Sumi’s favorites. “The arrangement came through a lot of trial and error and just playing it a lot,” the pianist says. “It’s one of those tunes that keeps evolving. It’s at this place now for me, but it keeps changing and I still want to play it a lot more.” Sumi’s improvised introduction reveals her intimate knowledge of the classic composition; while the trio’s seamless segue into the melody unmistakably displays the intuitive empathy among the three players.
The Clinging is a tune taken from a collection of compositions that Sumi composed combining Taiko drums with a jazz ensemble. She explains, “The music was inspired by the I Ching, the Chinese book of philosophy based on nature in its various forms. The Clinging has to do with the darker but also invigorating and active aspects of nature.” On this trio performance the piece takes on a more swinging straight ahead jazz temperament, propelled by Braye’s invigorating drumming.
The eastern influence on Sumi’s music is more clearly evident in the melody of Dreaming of Tibet, a composition based on a dream Sumi had about walking in Ancient Tibet. The tune’s 5/4 meter and deliberate tempo inform it with a trancelike character appropriate to its inspiration.
Quantum Question is the second piece that was composed specifically for this date. It’s dedicated to Sum’s recently departed father, who she says, “spent forty years of his life working on a treatise that he entitled Scientific Cosmism, his theory on the beginning of the universe.” The powerful tune is primarily free, with a form and structure that moves in an open way reminiscent of the work of the late Mal Waldron.
The title track, Long Ago Today, is also informed by Sumi’s loss of her father, as well as her mother, a remarkably hip woman who I had the great pleasure of knowing, in the past few years. “It’s about a feeling of longing and nostalgia, but not getting lost in it,” she says. “Being clear and present with it, letting the past take you forward by ultimately letting go, but not forgetting.” The thoughtful piece sensitively conveys the wisdom of her feelings.
Renewal is a tune composed by Sumi for her two good friends Erica Lindsay and Francesca Tanksley. She explains, “The three of us had a support group for a while where they helped each other deal with seeing creative projects through and dealing with issues around creativity etc. This tune sprang forth from that experience.”

Sumi credits another close friend, Ghanaian master hand drummer and percussionist Joachim Lartey, as the inspiration for Moroccan Daze. " I learned this Morrocan drum rhythm from Joachim and have him to thank for teaching it to me and for some very inspirational drumming sessions/lessons which provided the seed of the idea for this composition.This piece starts in seven and then releases into 3. We learned the rhythm by speaking it first. ‘Ta ki Ta ki Gam a Da,’ which immediately puts the emphasis or accents in the right place, and rises above the analytical approach.”
Just For Now was written several years ago by Sumi while in Kenny Barron’s studio at Rutgers University, where she would often substitute teach for the piano master. Sumi credits Kenny as a “close friend and mentor to whom I owe many thanks to for his quiet but firm support over the years.” That support importantly included the release of Sumi’s second cd, Secret Places, on his own JoKen label. The music here confirms Barron’s faith in her.
The concluding Nami’s Song was written by Sumi for her 12 year old daughter Nami, who, according to her mother, has a very melodic and wonderful presence. “She is very upbeat so I’m not sure why this came out as a ballad, but the composing process is just plain mysterious.”
The music world is full of mysteries. One of them is why it’s been more than ten years since Sumi Tonooka’s last recording as a leader. During that period she has recorded a collaboration with fellow Philadelphian, violinist John Blake, colead a quartet with Erica Lindsay, scored music for numerous films and, most importantly, continued to hone her considerable skills as a pianist and a composer, as is noticeably evident on this long overdue disc. Sumi remains philosophical when considering her lack of widespread recognition, exhibiting the same optimistic outlook she displayed when I first met her long ago. What has changed is that she has now proven that she is one of the finest pianists in jazz today.

Russ Musto
New York City
12 June 2005



to write a review

Ruben Avila

Awesome jazz trio.
Very intense, strong and perfectly performed jazz album, all songs are printed with a very particular and personal touch of each individual member of this band that i think it reflects well their organized perception of music and the consequence of large periods of rehearsal i guess. I strongly recommend this incredible album.

Artists Recording Collective

Professional Reviews
PROFESSIONAL REVIEW EXCERPTS: compiled for use at CD Baby by the label, Artists Recording Collective.
ALL MUSIC GUIDE **** by Michael G. Nastos
It’s hard to believe, but this is only the fifth recording as a leader for the very talented jazz pianist/composer Sumi Tonooka. The title Long Ago Today is significant in that it pays tribute to both of her parents who recently passed away, and the drummer on the date Bob Braye, who died shortly after these sessions were recorded. It is also an appreciation for bassist Rufus Reid, Tonooka’s long time friend, jazz ally, mentor and band mate. With the two in support of her musically and spiritually, the result is a wonderful modern jazz program of originals that suggest influences and good memories instead of melancholy, while attempting to raise the bar on new concepts and theories in the tried and true piano-bass-drums format. Fond of the two-fisted modal approach of McCoy Tyner, Tonooka executes it in grand fashion on the quick waltz “Be The Dance” changing keys and repeating melody lines while intensifying the music from within. Tonooka’s left hand on the lower octave keys meshes with Reid’s bass quite often for an arresting effect, undeniable during the spirited “Renewal” which showcases the precision of Braye. “The Clinging” also uses the piano-bass tandem technique, creating a sonic image that sets off Tonooka’s right hand flying. As Tonooka has been inspired by Kenny Barron for a number of years, his attention to detail and bright construct with darker undertones shows up on the inquisitive “Just For Now” and to a lesser extent on the innocent, shy tones during the ballad “Nami’s Song.” As part of a multi-cultural family growing up, Tonooka is naturally inclined to toss in something ethnic as on the bouncy, daring, dancing kinetic 7/8 rhythm of “Moroccan Daze” or the slow, languid modal beauty “Dreaming Of Tibet.” The lone standard “All Of You” has always been a popular vehicle for reinterpretation. Here Reid’s witty punctuations lift and push the ideas of Tonooka ever forward. Her best to date, and a highly recommended recording, it seems Tonooka is still tapping potential while refining her search techniques on this very satisfying and enjoyable effort.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ By Jeff Dayton-Johnson
Sumi Tonooka is a pianist from Philadelphia with some impressive credentials: she can recall playing with Philly Joe Jones and has counted upon the services of the redoubtable bassist Rufus Reid on each of her records. More important, she plays with a mature and entirely personal style that makes her a contender for the ranks of today\'s jazz piano elite.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ By Jerry D\'Souza
Tonooka plays with a strong commitment to melody and improvisation. She gets into the nectar of a tune and then draws out all of its delights. Her path to invention is filled with nuance and surprise, encompassed in an abiding musicality. Tonooka has bassist Rufus Reid, who has played with her for over 25 years, and Bob Braye on drums. They are in empathy with her thought and moves, and together shape an album that is as delightful as it is heart warming.
The Philly-born pianist Sumi Tonooka produces a beautifully restrained trio recording with bassist Rufus Reid and the late drummer Bob Braye. The set marks her first recording as a leader in a decade, and projects a shimmering quality. Tonooka never plays an ugly note, though there\'s no grab for the fiery center, either. Her compositions are like the fourth player in the room; they veer into unusual patterns and give everyone something challenging. Tonooka tames them, though, making them sound flowing and of one piece.
The Musicians\' Ombudsman - George W Carroll (eJazzNews)
When it come to jazz harmony & turning a melodic phrase, jazz pianist Sumi Tonooka will not just excite you with her pianistic craft, she will compel you to listen to her compositional artistic creations as well. Her writing is noteworthy, but I am drawn to her treatment of Cole Porter\'s eternal tune \'\'All Of You.\'\' Her take on Porter\'s song becomes a sojourn into the wondrous world of deceptive cadence, challenging harmonies, and certainly an intellectual approach to viable melody. Sumi creates a kaleidoscope of timbres & textures in her delivery, as well as a true jazz idiom sensibility with her impressionistic style. She also brings an \'original\' voice to piano jazz with her obvious paranormal pianistic skills, thus complementing the art of jazz piano in general. Bravo Sumi!
JAZZ REVIEW - Reviewed by: Susan Frances
Tonooka has been applauded for being a force of nature on the piano by aficionados of her work, and she still is with the compositions on Long Ago Today. The way her piano rings communicate with the bass pulls and delicate drum shuffles is inviting. She keeps her keys talkative, initiating the conversation and acting s a catalyst to stimulate the bass and drum movements.
Jazz Consumer Guide by Tom Hull
All originals, except for one Cole Porter tune. State of the art postbop, hard for me to nail down, but I\'m impressed with how the pieces build and move. B+(***)
Jazz Society of Oregon by Kyle O\'Brien
There’s a good dose of Monk in Tonooka’s playing, and the style and ferocity she uses makes that a good thing. This little known player has had an on and off again career, but if this mature sounding trio disc is any indication of her prowess, then she should keep the career on again for good. She teams with Rufus Reid on bass, who she has played with since her debut in 1986, and Bob Braye, who passed away shortly after this recording, but it’s Tonooka’s command of the keyboard that keeps this interesting throughout. The same can be said of her compositions.
Tonooka is a little-known but impressive talent in the line of jazz piano going back to the likes of Bill Evans and Kenny Barron, with a personal niche within it. Harmonically just a bit left of centre, and with total command of the trio setting she shares with Rufus Reid (bass) and the late Bob Braye (drums), Tonooka is also flexible enough to engage in three-way dialogue if that\'s the way a performance unfolds. Nine of the 10 pieces used are hers; though most just permutate a motif through the changes, they prove stimulating vehicles for the trio. Particularly attractive are the long title track, the rhythmically dazzling Moroccan Daze and Nami\'s Song , whose melodic substance inspires perhaps the most gracefully lyrical piano and bass solos on the album. Nothing outre - just an exceptional player doing her thing well.