Toshiko Akiyoshi & Charlie Mariano: Toshiko-Mariano Quartet

Long before the big-band charts that made her name, Japanese pianist Akiyoshi played small-group bop and cool with then husband Mariano

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Candid continues the remastering of selected albums from its catalogue with this polished 63-year-old offering from pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi and her then husband, the altoist Charlie Mariano. It pre-dated her more celebrated big band recordings over a decade later with trumpeter Lew Tabackin, her second husband. Another recent reissue collected her mid-50s recordings.

When the quartet sides were recorded, Akiyoshi had been in America just four years after her earlier discovery in Japan by Oscar Peterson. Both she and Mariano were Berklee alumni and they were soon playing together with exhilarating command and invention.

Overseen by Nat Hentoff, the quartet album was as much an illustration of the leaders’ joint skills as composers and arrangers as the cohesion made possible by four musicians in tongue-and-groove proximity. That said, Mariano’s is the more pervasive presence, his soulful ownership of the spiritual Deep River and his bushfire travels as a soloist elsewhere contrasting with Akiyoshi’s assertive Powell-esque solos and refined feeds (now and then aqueous in Deep River).

But it’s the structure of these charts that also makes the album memorable. Mariano’s Little T is a modal exercise in affection marked by an arc trajectory, Coltrane-derived solo work by the composer and some nimble touches as soloist and comper by his wife, not to mention the bookend duos played by Mariano and Gene Cherico’s bowed bass. Throughout the album, drummer Eddie Marshall remains alight and alert.

Mariano’s equally adoring When You Meet Her is animated rather than conversational, with waltz episodes interpolated into four-in-bar and a sizzling 24-bar chorus, two-thirds of it in 3/4 and the final third in common time. The jointly written Toshiko’s Elegy is about as elegiac as a rousing and expectant operatic overture; but if the elegiac quality resides in strength of feeling then it’s an elegy. Long Yellow Road, ascribed by Hentoff to Akiyoshi alone (as is the elegy) but to joint authorship in the discography, isn’t weighed down by nostalgia but buoyed by the spontaneity of present feeling and thus a vibrant memory. (Incidentally, on the album the pianist is called Toshiko Akiyoshi Mariano.)

Everything played here is lively and moving along the highway. If Mariano’s tone is sometimes shrill it’s only the sound of a musician operating at a vertiginously emotional tilt.

Discography
When You Meet Her; Little T; Toshiko’s Elegy; Deep River; Long Yellow Road (40.55)
Toshiko Akiyoshi Mariano (p); Charlie Mariano (as); Gene Cherico (b); Eddie Marshall (d). New York, 5 December 1960.
Candid CCD32102