Henry Franklin "The Skiper" Franklin, bass; Akeo "Steve" Katsuyama, piano; Tony Austin, drums
Henry Frankllin needs no introduction to yours truly since he occupied the bass chair on Pepo Mtoto, Julian Priester's 1973 ECM release LOVE, LOVE. Aboard an intergalactic express typical of its time and I think the equal of Miles Davis' GET UP WITH IT or Herbie Hancock's SEXTANT (whereon I first heard of Priester), Franklin presented a fatally infectious ostinato with a popping drive which has mellowed here on SAKURA but is still very obvious. Largely dependent on "standards," SAKURA shows Franklinís other roots as well; his bass breaks, especially on pianist Akeo "Steve" Katsuyama's "Melody for Micah," have a Mingus-like rhythmic authority. Percussionist Tony Austin exhibits a lot of detail in his time-keeping, but it's apparent he's having as much fun playing as you are, listening, and at one point he recalls Roy Haynes while trading 4s with Katsuyama during the Coltrane-penned "Lazy Bird." Very nice. Of course, the "traditional" bop piano trio has been so thoroughly researched since Bill Evans' time, say, that the overarching question is, what is it about this CD that makes it worth your lunch money? First, the players have an elasticity and a drive that's a delight to hear. No dust on these standards, either: "Good Morning Heartache"'s middle bit is taken at a briskly witty double-time, while in "Ruby, My Dear" Katsuyama (this trio's secret weapon) tosses into an early phrase in the theme those extra notes McCoy Tyner added when he first recorded it decades back (lovely nod to the master).
They cover the often-neglected Harold Land's "Short Subject" (and its odd structure) quite convincingly. And Leonard Bernstein may have forgotten to write a "cry here" button into "Some Other Time" but this trio manages to graft one on. Katsuyama should also be lauded for two tracks (Masao Yoneyama's "Ringo Oiwake" and his arrangement of Zenon Gafuku Shupansha's "Sakura") which don't stint on an alluring Eastern tonal flavor and which easily sweep away other attempts in this direction like the Dave Brubeck Quartet's "Tokyo Traffic." It's these intriguing cross-influernces which keep Jazz out of the museum. Good job! Maybe they won't take us to Alpha Centauri, but Miles' kids showed us the way there a while back.
by Ken Egbert
Jazz Now Interactive
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