Akiko Tsurga Wants Equal Time

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EQUAL TIME / TSURGA: Mag’s Groove. Osaka Samba. Lion’s Gate. DECHTER: Orange Coals. MOBLEY: A Baptist Beat. COLTRANE: Moment’s Notice. SCHERTZINGER-MERCER: I Remember You. ALLEN: This Could Be the Start of Something Beg / Akiko Tsurga, B3 org; Graham Dechter, gtr; Jeff Hamilton, dm / Capri Records 74160-2

I always feel a little leery reviewing jazz organ records for the simple reason that they tend to fall into the same pattern of fast blues-type numbers, but another reason is that so few modern-day organists can compare with Jimmy Smith or Barbara Dennerlein, surely the two greatest virtuoso jazz organists of the modern era.

Akiko Tsurga, who originally hails from Osaka, Japan, is clearly an outstanding keyboardist, and she certain can swing. She may lack the exuberant flair of Smith or Dennerlein, but she plays in much the same groove (well, she ought to, since she’s a jazz organist), and on this new release she is blessed to have as a bandmate guitarist Graham Dechter, who is one of the most exuberant of today’s jazz guitarists. Dechter, thank goodness, is not a shrinking violet on his instrument, as far too many modern jazz guitarists are; on the contrary, he plays with a zip and drive that I found very refreshing, and helps keep Tsurga on her toes.

From the first selection to last, Tsurga plays with a nice feel for swing, and if her playing may lack that final “oomph” factor that made Smith and Dennerlein superstars of the instrument, she clearly can improvise interestingly at times. Dechter’s opening lick on the second piece in this collection, his own composition Orange Coals, swings more all by itself than many guitarists do in their full-chorus solos, and his later solo is brimming with ideas. He also plays an excellent chase chorus with Tsurga while drummer Jeff Hamilton propels them in the background (just listen to Dechter’s double-time licks at the two-minute mark!). The two of them make a splendid duo, with Tsurga doing her best to keep up with Dechter’s scintillating improvisations.

Osaka Samba, the second Tsurga original on this disc, is a cute little number perfect for summertime jazz listening. Dechter once again dazzles with his guitar playing—I’ve got to keep this guy in mind for future reference!—while Tsurga contributes her own tasteful, delicate organ commentary. Hamilton has a nice solo on this one, too, splitting up the beat in interesting ways. Both Dechter and Tsurga show that they can get a little soul in their playing in their rendition of Hank Mobley’s A Baptist Beat, with Tsurga accompanying the guitarist through the first half before getting her own licks in. This one’s a real toe-tapper!

I was especially impressed by Tsurga’s playing on John Coltrane’s Moment’s Notice, particularly the nice, rather complex introduction, and once again Dechter comes smoking out of the gate. Akiko’s solo on this one also swings very well. Lion’s Gate is a ballad, but the band really kicks up Arthur Schertzinger’s and Johnny Mercer’s I Remember You, with Hamilton playing a nice, rapid shuffle beat behind the soloists. Tsurga really swings well on this track.

The finale is Steve Allen’s classic This Could Be the Start of Something Big, and the trio digs into it pretty well, with both Tsurga and Dechter particularly inventive and both swinging hard. It’s a nice finale to a very good disc, and thank goodness we didn’t get a chunky tenor sax!

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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