Women have always been part of the jazz scene. They were mostly vocalists in the early days, but eventually became composers and musicians of all instruments. Mindi Abair, saxophone; Ingrid Jensen, trumpet; Natalie Cressman, trombone; Dida Pelled, guitar; Terri Lyne Carrington, drums; Esperanza Spalding, bass; Patrice Rushen, piano. These are just a few to show the diversity present today. Now comes Asuka Kakitani, composer, arranger and conductor of a jazz orchestra.
Bloom (Nineteen-Eight Records, 2013) by the Asuka Kakitani Jazz Orchestra showcases the artist’s songwriting and leadership skills. She leads an 18-piece ensemble on this debut recording.
Each selection is upwards of seven minutes, giving the orchestra plenty of breathing room. “Electric Images” is one of the more ambitious pieces, mixing the near-symphonic sound of the orchestra with popular music elements. Soloists are bassist Dave Ambrosio, pianist Mike Eckroth, who plays Fender Rhodes electric piano on this selection, and guitarist Pete McCann. The 13-piece horn section – woodwinds and brass – blend and harmonize as a unit.
“Bumblebee Garden” features trombonist Matt McDonald and vocalist Sara Serpa. Again, the horns are out front much of the way. After McDonald’s spirited solo, Serpa performs a wordless chant with the orchestra playing softly behind her. Toward the end of the song, she chants along with the horns.
Kakitani has led the orchestra for several years, performing around New York City an Brooklyn. Born in the area of Osaka, Japan, Kakitani grew up in a musical family, playing piano and studying Western classical music as a teen. She studied jazz in Kyoto and continued her music education at the Berklee College of Music, graduating in 2004.