by Kev Rowland

Born and raised in Kobe, Japan, Takaaki Otomo started learning classical piano at the age of five, moving onto jazz when he was fifteen, inspired particularly by Oscar Peterson. He has released a number of CDs as a leader and sideman, and then in 2014 moved to  New York City. Composer Bernard Hoffer heard him playing at a restaurant in New York, and knew that it would be wonderful to hear him record in a trio setting, and set about making that a reality. Takaaki was joined by Noriko Ueda (bass) and Jared Schonig (drums), and they selected five originals, four jazz standards, plus one Broadway show tune (Takaaki’s suggestion) and two novelties from Gustav Holst’s The Planets. The originals were two tunes by Takaaki, one by Noriko, and two of Hoffer’s tunes written specifically for this project. Although Hoffer doesn’t perform, he was heavily involved, arranging eight of the numbers on the show.

Takaaki (pronounced Tock-ah-OCKie, rhymes with hockey) is an incredibly lyrical and accomplished pianist, and uses the full range of the grand piano, while in Ueda and Schonig he has discovered some incredibly capable and willing partners. There are times when the trio are in full flight, and it is incredibly majestic. Takaaki did start learning classical music, and this shows in some of the pieces as they move in and out of the jazz form. I must comment on their version of “Mars”, as while I have heard it undertaken in both its original form and with rock bands, this is the first time I have come across it as a jazz trio. It starts very true to the original, but at just under two minutes in length, Takaaki starts to stretch his musical wings and instead of playing the piece as composed, he starts to use it as an influence and plays in and around the piece. Overall it is an album that can be enjoyed on many levels, always pleasant and interesting without ever really pushing the boundaries a great deal.