Jazz pianist Sumi Tonooka has released her fifth studio album, Long Ago Today featuring her long-time bass player Rufus Reid and her drummer Bob Braye who passed away in February 2007, so this album is one of the last recordings that show his work. Tonooka has been applauded for being a force of nature on the piano by aficionados of her work, and she still is with the compositions on Long Ago Today. The way her piano rings communicate with the bass pulls and delicate drum shuffles is inviting. She keeps her keys talkative, initiating the conversation and acting s a catalyst to stimulate the bass and drum movements.
The track "The Clinging" is inspired by the philosopher I Ching who believed that natural events and occurrences need to take their course, and to interfere with them is damaging. Tonooka’s playing is firmly planted in this belief. She plays with an avant-garde approach to chord sequences and engages in free-style twitters so the notes sound uncoordinated and disharmonious as they jumble around, but it is just the natural course of these notes that Tonooka is following. The suave rolling keys of "Dreaming of Tibet" are guided by the vision of Thelonious Monk, according to Tonooka. The melodic patterns exude an enlightened state of harmony that is again repeated in the title track of the album which is dedicated to her departed mother. The tunes "Moroccan Daze" and "Quantum Question" are packed with free-flowing gales and flustering chords interwoven and separated using an arbitrary steering. "Quantum Question" is dedicated to her departed father, who she tells in the liner notes that he "spent forty years of his life working on a treatise that he entitled Scientific Cosmism, his theory on the beginning of the universe." The influence of her father’s studies may have also been instrumental in structuring her belief to follow the natural course of events to define her chord progressions.
Nothing is written in stone in these compositions. Though in the English language an "i" comes before an "e" except after "c," in Tonooka’s musical plexus, notes come up where they like and in whatever key they wish even if they hit each other at odd angles. The trio’s rapport can spur a fencing match between the three, or project a candlelit ambience. Their starbursts vary from having a wide range to planting small bleeps. The trio’s rapport is springy and jubilant on "Renewal" and "Be The Dance," and sentimental on "Nami’s Song" which Tonooka about her daughter. Her rendition of Cole Porter’s tune "All Of You" revitalizes the melody’s inherent excitement which Tonooka tells in the liner notes, "It’s one of those tunes that keeps evolving.... I still want to play it a lot more."
Sumi Tonooka’s album Long Ago Today has many crosses to bear including tributes to both her parents, and her recently departed drummer Bob Braye whose signature is all over these compositions. Although the album alludes to moments of mourning for Tonooka, the trio keeps the tunes conversational and feeling upbeat and enlightened.