****; TOSHIKO AKIYOSHI; "Desert Lady--Fantasy", Columbia
Akiyoshi has had her share of triumphs over the past 20 years, but "Desert Lady" is unprecedented. This is a staggering achievement not only for her as composer, arranger and pianist, but also for Lew Tabackin as tenor saxophonist, flutist and composer. He wrote "Desert Lady" for one of his small group sessions; for this version Akiyoshi has expanded the work into a suite, and it's given a nonpareil performance that displays her large ensemble at a unified peak of excellence.
The other original works here, though less ambitious in scope, all reflect the leader's mastery of orchestral voicings. A unique aspect of the album is its inclusion of the only tune in the band's repertoire not written by her or Tabackin: "Bebop" is a tribute to its composer, Dizzy Gillespie, brilliantly updated yet retaining the spirit of the original. It includes poised and perfect solos by Greg Gisbert on trumpet and Jim Snidero on alto sax.
New to most listeners will be Akiyoshi's "Hangin' Loose," a fresh and fascinating reworking of the chords of "Mean to Me." And Tabackin's tenor is the centerpiece on "Harlequin Tears" and "Broken Dreams."
To sum up: a flawless, indispensable album.
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