Composer and alto saxophonist Naoki Iwane’s Deserted Island is as irregular a debut disc as you will find. While most initial jazz offerings tend to be filled with mindless pyro-techniques, Iwane has instead chosen to display his thoughtful and cleverly inventive skills as both a writer of what is today described as introspective jazz tunes and performer of quiet dexterity.
Iwane, who was born and raised in Okayama, Japan, attended the Kawai and Yamaha music schools as a youth. Initially studying piano and composition, it wasn’t until he was later studying at Seattle Central College in the United States where he took up the saxophone and developed a strong love for jazz. Later studies at the University of Washington as a computer science major could not dislodge the jazz bug and he moved on to the New School University jazz program where he graduated with a Masters Degree in Jazz.
The eight tunes on this disc find Iwane demonstrating not only a highly advanced sense of harmonic flow, but also an in-depth demonstration of the degree to which motive and line are parts of the same melodic puzzle. His solo on "Sea Watch," for example, starts as a series of simple melodic phrases, fragments of which end up cascading upon themselves. This lovely ballad is made all the more romantic through the manner in which he connects the strands by the end.
On up-tempo tunes, like "M.E.I.," Iwane aims for a broader palette. He brings in a number of motivic concepts at the beginning all based on a single scale, then spins them out into long lines of interconnected threads. The resultant solo brilliantly displays the complexity to which great jazz can be taken.
The accompanying cast of musicians all play in perfect consort with Iwane. Drummer Tommy Crane’s playing is both intuitive and propulsive, George Dulin’s keyboard playing has an almost inexhaustible stable of shadings, Chris Tordini’s bass work is tight, Kazuhiro Ikeda’s guitar is perfectly subtle and understated, and tenor saxophonist George Garzone is his usual incredible self.
While there are some misses on the disc, "Tune Number Zero" doesn’t rise and Iwane’s solo on "Deserted Island" fails to round itself off, this is still an impressive debut from a young saxophonist.