In 2001 the Chicago Composers Project, a joint venture of the American Composers Forum and the Jazz Institute of Chicago, commissioned bassist Tatsu Aoki to compose a musical piece to reflect the importance of the contributions of Asian musicians to the universal language of jazz. Aoki created a composition that reflected the diverse experiences of Asian cultures in Chicago and assembled a big band of young musicians representing each of these cultures to bring to life the composition.
Debuting last August in Ping Tom Memorial Park in Chicago's Chinatown Neighborhood, "Rooted: Origins of Now" was also performed during the 2001 Chicago Jazz Festival before the power and beauty of Aoki's composition reached its true climax last October as the centerpiece of Asian American Jazz Chicago 2001. The stunnig marriage of Japanese taiko drums, free jazz horns, electronics, and rock drumming was so powerful, so overwhelming, that Aoki was named one of the Chicago Tribune's
"People of the Year" for 2001.
The studio version of "Rooted" was released at the same time as that penultimate performance in October. It is no less powerful. The masterstroke of Aoki's big band was using drummer Mia Park (of the punk rock band Kim) instead of a jazz drummer. Park's emphasis on the groove allowed Aoki to maintain the integrity of the taiko drums, making "Rooted" a funky, hard hitting, danceable composition. With Park and the taiko drummers providing a basso profundo
, the rest of the band simply soars.
The first movement "Now" builds slowly to a crescendo of avant garde cacophony, the drums determined, the saxophones darting in and out of the mix, Ameen Muhammad's trumpet calling ghosts of the past to musical arms. Aoki lends his patented bottleneck acoustic slide bass to the beginning of "Origin", setting the tone for Mwata Bowden's digeridoo later in the piece. The interlude "Hua Ha Ha" leads right into the third movement "1.5 Generation" with its percussive backbeat and waves of electronic feedback by Jonathan Chen.
The album closes with the reverential "...of Now, as Well", an eastern dirge given weight by the japanese vocals of Yoko Noge before picking up the tempo and heading home.The result is a masterpiece of an album that made my top ten list in 2001 and was released close enough to 2002 that it might just make my top ten list this year, as well.