By Ric Bang
Buy CD: In the Rain Shadow
There’s a Chris Amemiya who plays trombone, has performed with combos and big bands in Hawaii (his birth place), Boston and Seattle, and has formed the swinging sextet featured on this release.
There’s also a Chris Amemiya who completed his college undergraduate degree at Purdue University, obtained a PhD in genetics at Texas A&M, received an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship in molecular studies, completed postdoctoral studies in comparative immunology at the Tampa Bay Research Institute, and another postdoctoral fellowship working on the Human Genome Project at the Livermore National Laboratory ... not to mention several other teaching projects. Oh yes, and is a full professor in the biology department at the University of Washington.
Believe it or not, they’re one and the same guy.
I’m concerned here with his musical alter ego, of course, as a Doctor of Jazz. Amamiya’s first instrument during high school was the euphonium, but by the time he hit college he had switched to trombone. Although his career in science took top priority, he never stopped playing and was hooked on jazz early on. He performed with jazz, blues, salsa and R&B groups, recorded jingles, and ultimately formed his Jazz Coalescence sextet in 2006; that’s the straight-ahead unit featured on this album.
The members include Jay Thomas, a multi-instrumentalist who plays trumpet and flugelhorn on this release, but also is fluent on the reed instruments and flute; Travis Ranney, on alto and tenor sax; John Hansen, on piano; Jon Hamar, on bass; and Steve Korn, on drums. Amemiya handles the trombone chores.
All these players are key elements in the Seattle/Pacific Northwest jazz scene: first-class musicians who have played with many bands as sidemen and/or leaders. In this unit, their melding is particularly noteworthy.
One of the primary goals for this sextet was to be a group that not only worked well together (“coalesced”), but featured artists who could produce great solos. To that end, the average running time for the tunes exceeds 10 minutes, which provides space for clever ensemble work and solos by all six musicians. Eight composers are represented; in several cases, arrangements are by members of the group.
My favorite track is Eubie Blake’s 1930s hit, “Memories of You,” which is given a complete overhaul and a grooving meter. Sammy Fain’s “Secret Love” is another seldom-heard melody that glistens anew.
In fact, everything on the menu is a winner.