Jazz Review: Akiko Tsuruga Quartet at Makeda

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Helping to kick off the opening week of the New Brunswick Jazz Project’s “Women in Jazz Month,” organist Akiko Tsuruga brought her swinging and grooving brand of jazz to Makeda. The Osaka native’s rhythmic approach and mastery was evident, as she poked and prodded her band into an excellent performance.

Groove was truly the order of the night, as Tsuruga and Kevin Kanner brought a driving rhythmic intensity to each of the performed selections. Even a ballad, a lovely feature for tenorist Myron Walden, morphed and transformed into funky double time. It was a perfect canvas for Walden’s laid back, soulful approach.

Afterwards, the band picked up the pace with a performance of “The End of a Love Affair,” interpreted as a burning swinger where excellent solos by Walden and trumpeter Joe Magnarelli were spurred onwards by a pulse that had the audience tapping feet and bobbing heads.

Along those same toe-tapping lines was a poppy bossanova take on the standard “Polka-Dots and Moonbeams." The set was rounded off by a slow rhythm-changes tune where some bluesey and soulful playing elicited more than a few hoots and hollers from the audience.

Tsuruga is really a pleasure to watch. She isn’t a flashy player, but her every note and phrase as both a soloist and accompanist seems calculated to bring the maximum effect to the rest of the band. That’s not to say it’s pre-ordained or lacking in spontaneity; she just always seems play what the moment calls for while leaving just enough space for the listener to breathe. With a group of outstanding and established players like this her quartet is highly recommended. 

Akiko Tsuruga Quartet: Akiko Tsuruga – Organ; Joe Magnarelli – Trumpet; Myron Walden – tenor saxophone; Kevin Kanner – Drums

For a schedule of Makeda’s Thursday Night Jazz and other shows in town, visit the New Brunswick Jazz Project’s website at NBJP.org