Already making waves in the music world, New York-based Japanese conductor Miho Hazama gives us an album of her own compositions played by the Danish Radio Big Band. At once stirring with its use of a variety of soloing instruments (flute, sax, trumpet, guitar, flugelhorn), Imaginary Visions (Edition Records) gives us a sound that is light and fluid. When one thinks of a big band, big and crowding sounds leap to mind, like Basie’s “Jumping at the Woodside.” And though the tracks are upbeat, they are controlled, and the balance is always just right. The whirling flute and piano in the first set, “I Said Cool, You Said…What?” gets the excitement going, preparing us for some unexpected guitar. Here the unexpected gives a short shock and then moves the composition along enough that it’s hardly an intrusion anymore.
One thing I noticed is the way the tracks are filled with life and sound. There’re shifting instruments taking the spotlight and big jolts of brass and calmer moments of woodwinds or piano. I loved the spirit, the overall vibe that radiates confidence. Not only from the conductor but from the band itself—you can tell they like what they’re playing, grooving to. I was struck by the similarities shared with the Airmen of Note (the Air Force’s band). They, too, have a way of feeling full and jovial without being too heavy and lengthy in their recordings. Miho Hazama knows what she’s about, and this thrilling release puts her at the forefront of big band revivals.
I remember listening to her 2015 album, Time River, and liking it but not loving it. Since then, Hazama has certainly grown as a conductor and a composer. There’s still the sense of playfulness and fun in the work, but now a maturity has wrapped itself about the whole. A sophistication that makes more unusual musical choices seem purposeful and organic. Given that all the tracks are over 5 minutes, it’s a veritable and venerable feat to keep the energy moving. But Imaginary Visions doesn’t stall, even during the slower sections—as in the first half of “Home”, well most of “Home” to be honest. As the album is played through, Hazama’s vision can no longer really be called imaginary, it is actualized and shown to be bold and bright.
Nearing the end, “Mimi’s March” gives us a noisy start, handing it over to the piano, then shifting (easily, effortlessly, elegantly) to another instrument or group. I am amazed by the ability to pass the melody along and back and forth and sideways. If these compositions had been written by anyone else or conducted by anyone else, they might not have been the toe-tapping stream of sounds they are. The teamwork and trust exhibited by these tracks prove that Miho Hazama loves what she does and knows how to get the results she wants. Imaginary Visions leaves me with a yearning for live music and the buzz that a space filled up with jazz lovers gives off. I can just see the residents at a retirement community jumping by the stage while the Danish Radio Big Band does its thing. But whether you grew up listening to Glen Miller and Tom Dorsey or endorse contemporaries like John Hollenback and Jen Hodge All Stars, this will get you warmed up for the colder seasons ahead.