While pianist-arranger-composer Toshiko Akiyoshi headed a fine big band in New York after moving cross-country in 1982, the orchestra that she led in Los Angeles in the 1970s was arguably her greatest accomplishment. The three-CD Mosaic Select set Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin Big Band collects all of the music originally released on the RCA albums Kogun, Long Yellow Road, Tales of a Courtesan, Insights, and March of the Tadpoles. With such major players as Akiyoshi’s husband Lew Tabackin on tenor and flute, trumpeters Bobby Shew and Don Rader, trombonist Britt Woodman and altoist Gary Foster among the many soloists in the all-star band, the orchestra could swing as hard as any of its competitors. In addition to the more boppish pieces, Akiyoshi often wrote works that displayed her Japanese heritage, utilizing Eastern harmonies and instruments along with her husband’s flute. Many of the highpoints of her career are on this perfectly conceived Mosaic release.
A stunning album of fusion-treated jazz standards, it includes several original compositions by Soloff and features Mike Stern (g), Charnett Moffett (b), and Elvin Jones (d). Mike Stern's guitar work is featured prominently throughout.
Soloff's trumpet has wonderful warmth and richness in the mid register and he periodically leaps into the upper stratosphere with squeals and wails. Trombonist Ray Anderson also plays `up there' with abandon, so much so that sometimes it sounds like there are two trumpets. Stand out cuts are Bassist Mark Egan's `True Confessions' which has a gorgeous spaciousness similar in manner to Billy Cobham's `Heather'.
Lew Williams was a practitioner of "cat music," a musical form preceding the rock & roll era that combined souped-up hillbilly sounds with hep slang in what was essentially a hillbilly adaptation of R&B.